Sky Birds, 2022-23
Materials: site-specific wall drawing, charcoal, acrylic
Location at Summa: Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion, ground floor lobby opposite entrance
This work was commissioned by Summa Health specifically for this location.
About the art and the artist:
Dragana Crnjak was chosen for this commission on the basis of a series of drawings and paintings she had done over several years that made use of the instability of charcoal as a drawing instrument which generates feelings of transience and weightlessness. While she had previously created a number of temporary installations, drawing directly on walls, this Summa commission is the first in which the completed installation is intended to be permanent, rather than temporary.
Marks that she makes -- on canvas or on walls, with the inherently unstable material of charcoal -- disintegrate as she applies pressure to enlarge or strengthen them. She loved the effect, finding that it alludes to other concepts that interest her as an artist: The idea of time as fragmentary and perhaps discontinuous, the process of creating as a contemplative, reflective act, and how memory affects our perceptions of form. She was excited to be able to work "site specific", directly in the wall, as medieval frescoists had done, and on such a large scale, which necessarily slows things down and encourages meditation.
The composition we see today began with a sketch proposal to the Summit Curatorial Committee. The artist chose to make her often abstract marks into birds because they'd often looked like birds, which for her comported the idea of freedom and weightlessness. Birds have symbolized the spirit in ancient (Greek and Roman) art and the soul in Christian art and have often been chosen by artists to convey a sense of unboundedness, release; there is also a strong avian tradition in Japanese art. Yet Crnjak has resisted any detail of individual bird or species, instead leaving the mostly abstract traces of her gestures to suggest the flock, soaring high. As it rises and recedes into the distance. it captures our imagination and takes our breath away.
Individual forms in Sky Birds took shape after the artist laid in the clouds by painting directly on the available wall. To adhere to her proposal, she had already prepared a series of to-scale "cartoons" in the manner that Renaissance artists did in order to enlarge drawings for larger-scale mural works. She then taped the cartoons, on light sheets of paper, temporarily on the wall to guide her charcoal drawings of the rising flock of birds, right on top of the painted sky (a lift was needed to get the artist up the upper reaches of the space - Michelangelo had scaffolding, today we have scissor-lifts).
Finally, she used a large brush to soften the charcoal marks, the forms of the birds, with downward strokes that also imparted a sense of rising motion and, in the words of Curator Meg Harris Stanton, "brought the birds to life." This response certainly derives in part from the elevated position of the composition on the lobby wall but foremost comes from Crnjak's favored means of marking and finishing that evoke rising forms disappearing into space, achieved with a remarkable combination of techniques.
Dragana Crnjak is a Serbian-American artist born in the former Yugoslavia; she came to Akron in 1997. An interdisciplinary artist, her work is based primarily in painting and the processes of drawing, such as this Summa commission. She earned a B.F.A. in painting from the University of Akron and then completed the M.F.A. degree in painting and printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University. Along the way she has received numerous awards, including a Professional Fellowship in drawing at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Individual Excellence Awards in the visual arts from the Ohio Arts Council in 2008, 2011, and 2015; and a Research Professorship from Youngstown State University where she has taught painting and drawing since 2006. She previously taught at the Cleveland Institute of Art and the University of Virginia.
Where you can see more of this artist’s work
Crnjak maintains a comprehensive website where you can see the range of her work, which includes works on paper and canvas, as well as her site-specific drawings. Her work is held in numerous private collections as well as in public collections such as the Progressive Collection (Cleveland), Capital One in Richmond, the Washington Plaza in Washington D.C., and has been recognized by awards in solo and group exhibitions in Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, New York, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois. She also has work in the U.S. Ambassadorial residence in Sarajevo (Bosnia), and displayed work as part of the Curated Storefront Project in Akron, and has been included as a featured artist in the fourth edition of Deborah Rockman's Drawing Essentials: A Complete Guide to Drawing (Oxford University Press, 2019)
Dragana Crnjak is represented by Page Bond Gallery in Richmond, VA.
Where you can see other works like this:
A number of artists in the Summa Collection have expressed ideas in and through the form(s) of birds: We call your attention to the work of Charlotte Lees, Emily Sullivan Smith, and Lynn O'Brien.
Where you can see more of this artist’s work: A selection of prints on metal of Robert Blair’s photographs can be seen at the Stow (Ohio) Municipal Court, as well as on his website.