From the venue:
Bandit Roll/Chimney Hole
Without fail each holiday season brings a new crop of “bad Santa” stories. Red-suited, holly-jolly misanthropics descend on our malls making promises through their scratchy fake beards of extravagant gifts and acts of wonder. Sure, there are some standout Santas, but many others are facing a morning unwrapping lumps of coal. In 2018, a mall Santa in Glendale, California punched a shopper in the nose after he denied the divinity of Christ. A 62-year-old Santa in Assonet, Massachusetts was dragged away in cuffs after calling a woman with five children a ‘ho’ three times. On a somber note, here in Georgia we were captivated by a Walmart Santa Claus who tragically killed his two teenage children. That said, this year did bring us a feel-good version was a superman Santa in St. Ives, Cambridgeshire. When the mall’s fire alarm erupted with a line of 50 waiting children, this triggered Santa to spring into ‘serve and protect’ mode. He had his escape route planned out, pushing a wishful kid off his knee, tearing off his hat, tossing the flammable beard and screaming for the kids to “get the fuck out.” Preparedness saves lives. Bravo Santa. May whatever you wish for come down your chimney next year.
Craig Drennen has been preparing for his role as the bad Santa since 2008, when he began his practice of making art themed around Shakespeare’s greatest miss, Timon of Athens. It’s a tricky work with an uncertain history and scholars and defenders of Shakespeare’s throne have attempted to distance the piece from his canon. It is one of his only plays never brought to the stage during his lifetime. Timon of Athens is a pessimistic play about betrayal. Our once well-off protagonist has lost everything to frivolous generosity and undeserving friends. Broke, he is exiled from the larger society to live in a shadowy cave. One-by-one Drennen has introduced us to the play’s characters via his paintings, sculptures, and videos. The first nine characters have included: Mistresses, Chorus, Flattering Lords, Masquers, Timon of Athens, Apemantus, Servants, Painter, and Poet. Which brings us to his most recent works, bringing the Bandit character to life.
Thinking about a man in disguise waiting for the heart of darkness to slide down a family’s chimney, into our inner sanctum, with a big bag over his shoulder… Drennen undermines Santa’s place in mythology by pointing a flashlight on his resemblances to the Bandit. The decent get twisted into something much more tawdry. Any gift given or received can be a burden, seen as a crack in the armor. When the Bandits come to steal the last of Timon’s gold, he turns the tables and hands the loot over. This is payment for his vengeful, Grinch-like charge: go back to Timons, back to all that took from him, and plunder and pillage. Steal everything.
For his solo exhibition “BANDIT ROLL/CHIMNEY HOLE” Drennen presents two cartoonishly simplistic chimney places. The perfectly flattened red and white bricks give way to black square, embodying a humorously endless portal down the world of the terminal Bandits. They rob without abandon. Once the decent begins there is no turning back, no ledge to grab hold of. Life is reduced to base desires. Projected on the façade is a blurry video of the artist sporting a full Santa disguise. He took the plunge and called quits on optimism, choosing full thief instead. Chimney-to-chimney, gallery-to-gallery, with a giddy smile he wants to pull the fire alarm and blow it all to smithereens.
Craig Drennen is an artist based in Atlanta, GA who identifies primarily as a painter even though the centrifugal force of his studio practice often propels him outside the practice of painting. His most recent solo exhibition was “BANDIT” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Georgia. Prior to that he had solo exhibitions at Ellen de Bruijne Projects in Amsterdam, Samsøñ gallery in Boston, and Helper project space in Brooklyn. Drennen’s work has been reviewed in Artforum, Art in America, and the New York Times, among other places. He has been interviewed by StoryCorps, Art Pulse, and New American Paintings. He teaches at Georgia State University, served four years as dean of the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, and writes occasional art criticism. Since 2008 he has organized his studio practice around Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. He is a 2018 awardee of a Guggenheim Fellowship.