Her studio is devoid of white. The paintings perched upon and placed against the walls collectively form a vibrant mosaic of colors, movement, and emotion. Even the splattered paint on the wood floor adds its touch to the mixture.
Two spectators look intently at her work as Megan Craig ’97 stands in the corner, with her hand raised, applying primer to a blank canvas. She looks more like a scientist than a painter in her white lab coat, but the colored paint that dirties it confirms her true craft.
Moving to Goshen, CT after spending her early childhood in Belgium, Craig was drawn to art at a very young age. While attending both public and private schools, she found herself in an environment where her interest in drawing and creating things was greatly nurtured.
“I had really good art teachers, I think, through all of my schooling,” says Craig, her voice soft and warm. “So, I had a lot of encouragement.”
Although her interest in painting was very strong, it was not clear to her which direction she wanted to take her talent until she attended Yale as an undergraduate. Finding Yale’s arts department to be particularly intense, Craig realized that she must begin to take a more serious approach to her work.
Painting, however, was not at the top of her academic interests and she decided to major in Philosophy and minor in Art. Later she pursued a PHD in Philosophy and is currently a professor at SUNY Stonybrook and teaches the course “Philosophy of Art.” But even as her schooling took her elsewhere, Craig continued to paint. Her decision to pursue philosophy was primarily due to financial issues — it was easier to get funding for it as a graduate student.
“It was really a kind of center point of my life,” she explains. “I have always been interested in philosophy, but the idea of not painting was never a possibility. Painting actually makes me really happy and feel healthy, and sort of human in a way that allows the rest of my life to work. It was never a question of giving up painting or kind of having it be secondary.”
FROM CITYSCAPES TO ABSTRACTION
After graduating from Yale, Craig moved to New York City. There she held many different jobs including working at a gallery, painting murals, and volunteering with a group called City Arts.
And although life in New York as a burgeoning artist did, at times, prove difficult, Craig found the geometry and character of the buildings within the city to be her biggest inspiration.
“The city has always been a really important reference for me,” she says. “It’s not so much about New York City or about something really particular. It’s more about the experience of a lot of crowded stuff and how it stacks up against each other and these sort of intricacies of spaces that just look sort of overwhelming and confusing.”
Craig was most interested in how citizens of New York were able to carve out their own niches despite the crowded nature of the city. She took to painting rooftops, inspired by these “secret pockets of calm” not visible from the street, but never included people in her work — her paintings were more grounded in the shapes and structures that she saw around her.
Even after moving back to New Haven, the personality of the city was still ingrained in her paintings. She took a more abstract approach to her work and since she did not have New York as a visual reference, she concerned herself with themes of clutter and “how things stack or meet at their edges.”
COLORFUL WORKS IN PROGRESS
For the past year, Craig has been working mainly with acrylic paint. Her shift from oil paint was prompted by her recent pregnancy; although the change was made for obvious safety reasons, the transition has also had a significant impact on her work.
“[The paintings on the wall] all feel to me like they’re works in progress or studies. I feel like I have been trying to generate this new vocabulary that I could then work with as I go forward into other paintings.”
Stepping into her studio, you cannot help but be drawn to the vibrant colors of her paintings. Not one to stick to a singular hue, Craig chooses her colors intuitively and often goes with what she is “obsessed with” at the moment. But, she says, most of all, her choice of color is influenced by things that inspire her at the moment she embarks on a new painting.
“I don’t ever think about what goes together. I’m thinking about all the source materials and all of the stuff that has led to that painting. It’s more about mood. Certain paintings call for certain types of colors that then generate a mood.”
The atmosphere of calm that envelops Craig’s studio is broken by the vitality and energy that her work expresses. With her active brush strokes that create fluid lines and shapes, Craig easily communicates her motives in her work.
“Its always my hope that my paintings feel like an excess of life or excess of energy. Even if you can’t identify what they’re about or what’s in them, you still get this sense of a kind of living vitality that connects you with something that feels humane and that feels kind of intimate and personal.”