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Tom Craig (1909 – 1969)

Six O-Clock, c. 1942, oil on canvas, 30 x 20 inches, signed and titled several times verso of frame and stretcher (perhaps by another hand), marked “Rehn” several times on frame (for the Frank K. M. Rehn Galleries in New York City, who represented Craig at the time); Exhibited: 1) 18th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings from March 21 to May 2, 1943 at The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. #87, original price $450 (per catalog) (exhibition label verso), 2) Craig’s one-man show at the Frank K. M. Rehn Galleries, New York City, from October 26 to November 14, 1942, #10 (original price listed as $350); and 3) Exhibition of thirty paintings sponsored by the Harrisburg Art Association at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg in March, 1944 (concerning this exhibit, Penelope Redd of The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) wrote: “Other paintings that have overtones of superrealism inherent in the subjects include Tom Craig’s California nocturne, ‘Six O’Clock,’ two figures moving through the twilight . . . .” March 6, 1944, p. 13); another label verso from The Museum of Art of Toledo (Ohio): original frame: Provenance includes George Stern Gallery, Los Angeles, CA


About the Painting

Long before Chris Burden’s iconic installation outside of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Urban Light, another artist, Tom Craig, made Southern California streetlights the subject of one of his early 1940s paintings. Consisting of dozens of recycled streetlights from the 1920s and 1930s forming a classical colonnade at the museum’s entrance, Burden’s Urban Light has become a symbol of Los Angeles. For Burden, the streetlights represent what constitutes an advanced society, something “safe after dark and beautiful to behold.” It seems that Craig is playing on the same theme in Six O-Clock. Although we see two hunched figures trudging along the sidewalk at the end of a long day, the real stars of this painting are the streetlights which brighten the twilight and silhouette another iconic symbol of Los Angeles, the palm trees in the distance. Mountains in the background and the distant view of a suburban neighborhood join the streetlights and palm trees as classic subject matter for a California Scene painting, but Craig gives us a twist by depicting the scene not as a sun-drenched natural expanse. Rather, Craig uses thin layers of oil paint, mimicking the watercolor technique for which he is most famous, to show us the twinkling beauty of manmade light and the safety it affords. Although Southern California is a land of natural wonders, the interventions of humanity are already everywhere in Los Angeles and as one critic noted, the resulting painting has an air of “superrealism.”

About the Artist

Thomas Theodore Craig was a well-known fixture in the Southern California art scene. He was born in Upland California. Craig graduated with a degree in botany from Pomona College and studied painting at Pamona and the Chouinard Art School with Stanton MacDonald-Wright and Barse Miller among others. He became close friends with fellow artist Milford Zornes during his time at Pamona and both artists also studied under Millard Sheets, who encouraged Craig to paint seriously. During the 1930s and 1940s, Craig taught at the University of California, Occidental College and Chouinard. In 1937, his work was included in a traveling exhibition called “The California Group” which helped cement his reputation as one of the leading California Scene painters. He showed at dozens of other exhibitions as well, including at the California Art Club, the San Diego Art Guild, the Corcoran Gallery, the American Artists Congress, the Golden Gate International Exhibition, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among other institutions. Craig was awarded prizes by the Los Angeles Art Association, Los Angeles County Fair, Seattle Art Museum, California Watercolor Society, California State Fair, Oakland Art Museum, Laguna Beach Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego Artists Guild, Portland Art Museum, Golden Gate International Exposition. Around the time he painted Six O’Clock, Craig won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1941 which facilitated travel and further pursuit of his art career. During World War II, Craig served as an artist-correspondent for Life Magazine. After returning from the War, Craig’s artist output slowed, and he devoted most of his time to botany after 1950, making his work relatively rare. He is represented in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Art, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, The Hilbert Museum of California Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


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