Debutantes: Sam Cranstoun - Art Collector

Issue 59, January - March 2012

This profile appeared in the Debutantes feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2012.

Born: 1987
First commercial gallery solo exhibition: July 2012 at Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Brisbane

He would be the image of the classic heroic oil seeker, pipe gritted between his teeth, a Clint Eastwood-like squint as he surveys the oil fields… except for the giant can of Hershey’s syrup sticking out of his gob.

Sam Cranstoun is a surrealist of the highest order. He takes history and inverts it with bizarre twists. He has twice been a finalist in the Archibald Prize, while still completing his fine arts degree at the Queensland University of Technology. At the age of 24 he is clearly an artist to watch.

The oil man described was a part of an ambitious installation at Brisbane’s energetic artist run space Boxcopy. Cranstoun was referencing Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hollywood film There Will be Blood from 2007, a movie loosely based on the 1927 Upton Sinclair novel, Oil! The same year Cranstoun presented The Divine Right of Hands at the Metro Arts Gallery in Brisbane, an amalgam of meticulous portraits of European royalty rendered in pencil, graphic devices stencilled in vinyl lettering and various forms of installation. Cranstoun is one of those young artists who sees fit to mix and match materials at whim but with a cohesive rationale for doing so. In his exhibition at Boxcopy, for example, Cranstoun mixed painting and sculptural installation seamlessly, placing a gigantic fluorescent white cross alongside the portrait of the oil man choking on Hershey’s syrup.

Daniel McKewen, who curated the show at Boxcopy explains: “Sam does have quite an ability to move between different media. I think this is something that, to a degree, comes from studying in the open studio model that QUT fosters for the Bachelor of Fine Arts students. From these quarters, I think it’s slightly more common, or at least becoming more common, for artists to move between media within the one body of work or show. And I do feel that Sam is a great example of an artist who does it very freely and successfully.”

McKewen believes this strategy is particularly apt for Cranstoun’s practice, both in terms of process and his areas of interest. “The way he moves between media is actually analogous to the way he moves between such varied sources from history and pop culture, and responds to them all with equal interest and reverence.”

Brisbane dealer Ryan Renshaw, who will hold Cranstoun’s first commercial gallery solo exhibition this year, says it’s easy to be seduced by technically proficient artists. “Yet in a critical sense many of these same artists are burdened by the very skills they possess, delivering us little more than a fleeting sensation of awe and admiration of their craft. Sam Cranstoun represents a new breed of emerging artist who flaunts high production values in balance with conceptual rigour.”

Ashley Crawford

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