Bruce Cratsley: Shifting Identities

Bruce Cratsley List Gallery exhibition

Bruce Cratsley, Charlie Descending, 1988, gelatin silver print, 15 x 15 inches

Bruce Cratsley: Shifting Identities

September 8–October 30, 2016

Thursday, Sept. 15
Lecture by Ron Tarver: “Bruce Cratsley’s Inspirations and Legacy”
Lang Performing Arts Center Cinema, 4:30 p.m.
List Gallery reception: 5:30-7:00 p.m.
List Gallery reception follows: 5:30-7:00 PM

The List Gallery, Swarthmore College, is pleased to present Bruce Cratsley: Shifting Identities, a survey of photographs taken by Bruce Cratsley between 1977 and 1999. Curated by List Gallery director Andrea Packard and Ron Tarver, Instructor of Art at Swarthmore College, the exhibition presents more than 35 masterworks from Cratsley’s varied bodies of work, including still-lifes, portraits, images of fine art, street scenes, and celebrations of gay and lesbian culture. The exhibition will be on view September 8—October 30, 2016. The opening reception will take place in the List Gallery on Thursday, September 15, 5:30-7:00 p.m. Ron Tarver, winner of both a Pew Fellowship and Pulitzer Prize for photography, will deliver a lecture titled “Bruce Cratsley’s Inspirations and Legacy” immediately before the opening reception. The lecture will take place in the Lang Performing Arts Center Cinema, 4:30-5:30 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Bruce Cratsley’s black-and-white photographs distill formal and and conceptual lessons from many of the artists he admired, including seminal photographers such such as André Kertesz, Eugene Atget, Diane Arbus, W. Eugene Smith, and, most of all, his teacher, Lisette Model, with whom he studied at the New School for Social Research in New York in the early 1970s. Model described Cratsley as “a poet with a camera” and encouraged him to photograph figures and ordinary objects with both the immediacy of a snapshot and a formal rigor that conveys timeless beauty. His diverse bodies of work reflect his profound engagement with art, architecture, and the surreal contrasts and ephemeral visual encounters he experienced in New York City, where he lived and worked. Swarthmore’s survey exhibition presents a range of Cratsley’s subjects from his nuanced still-lifes and the windblown tendrils of flowering trees to experiences living and working with AIDS during the late 1980s and 1990s.

Primarily using a twin lens medium format Rolleifllex camera and printing his photographs in a square format, Cratsley found ways to relate precise details, texture, and imagery to abstracted geometries of light and shadow. He used velvety blacks, elegant calligraphic lines, and dazzling washes of light to abstract his subjects, questioning fixed assumptions or viewpoints, and imbuing his imagery with mystery and yearning. As the artist wrote “Often I photograph the unseen, things which are not there—sensations and mysteries. There is a presence in absence. My camera work is alchemical, creating a visual poetry of heart, idea, and spirit.” Reviewing Cratsley’s 1996 Brooklyn Museum retrospective in The New York Times, Holland Carter concluded: “whether Mr. Cratsley is setting up a surreal play of glinting reflective surfaces or picking his subjects out from velvety penumbral darkness like jewels on a cushion, the combination of elegance and evanescence that results is his signature.”

Born in 1944, Cratsley grew up in Swarthmore, Pa., and graduated from Swarthmore College in 1966. He began studying with Lisette Model at the New School for Social Research in 1972. For more than a decade, he developed his aesthetic as a curator and gallerist, ultimately serving as director of Graphics and Photography at Marlborough Gallery. In 1986, he left Marlborough to devote himself full-time to his work as an artist. Cratsley exhibited his work at numerous New York galleries, including Howard Greenberg, Laurence Miller Gallery, Witkin Gallery, Yancy Richardson, and Sarah Morthland. Bruce Cratsley: Master of Light and Shadow, the retrospective exhibition mounted by the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1996, was critically acclaimed. Numerous private and institutional collections acquired his work, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; the Bibliothque Nationale, Paris; Yale University Library; Harvard’s Fogg Museum; and New York Public Library. A monograph on the artist, Light, Silent Shadows, was published by Arena Editions in 1998. He died in 1998 due to complications from AIDS.

We are grateful to Arlette Kayafas, Gus Kayafas and Lee Wormald at Gallery Kayafas, Boston and to the family of Bruce Cratsley for loaning works to this exhibition.  Additional support for the exhibition was provided by the Marjorie Hielman Visiting Artist Fund and the Department of Art, Swarthmore College.