An American Nightmare

Most artists try to keep vibrant and colorful prints of their proudest photographic achievements clean. But for Steven Criqui, a former studio art lecturer at UC Irvine who passed away on March 4, 2007, the computer-printed and highly saturated photographs served as a part of the canvas on which he expressed modern life with the addition of a few strokes of the paintbrush.
A memorial exhibit for Criqui had its grand opening at the University Gallery on campus on Jan. 10. The free exhibit will run until Feb. 9. Artwork from over 20 years of Criqui’s life hangs on the gallery walls, showcasing both his simpler earlier abstract paintings and his most recent media hybrids.
Observers may notice the enormous photograph of Johnnie’s Coffeeshop that stretches across an entire central wall panel as soon as they walk into the gallery. The architectural landscape is dark and drab. Johnnie’s is blue-and white-striped, and sits next to an all-grey building. The entire scene is under an all-grey sky, and people are not present on what seems to be a busy Los Angeles intersection. Each streetlight and sign light projects an overpowering radiation of brightness. Sections of light have been stretched, distorted and overexposed in an effect that renders areas of the picture indecipherable. A stripe of orange paint hides what a large billboard in the photograph is advertising.
Using paint to cover up commercial messages is a technique that Criqui utilizes in many of his pieces. He also uses the brush to impose flat symmetrical designs on top of his surreal settings. Most people will probably not recognize the relatively obscure L.A. settings Criqui chose for these photo-paintings.
After seeing a few of these bright-but-desolate creations, one may wonder, what does it all mean?
At this point, the enquiring art enthusiast can browse through a binder of articles about Criqui’s work over the years. In one of the articles, an essay called ‘Paradise Adjacent: Living in the Shadow of the American Dream’ by David Pagel explains it best.
‘Paranoia and hope go hand in hand [and] thus go hand-in-glove in the post-urban sprawl that is contemporary Los Angeles.