We tend to take the alphabet for granted, assuming the letters mean exactly what they are supposed to mean, and that when strung together according to the rules they will add up to the words the dictionary indicates. Craig McDaniel suggests otherwise in a series of artworks that replace letters with pictures to spell out cliché phrases like “It was a dark and stormy night” and “I love you. Perhaps.” Angelina Jolie’s sultry face stands in for “A,” red and yellow polka-dots replace “D,” a fragment of a Max Ernst collage novel marks “P,” and so on. There are reasons more or less obvious for each of these and other replacements, but a third work suggests an overarching guiding principle. It is a transcription of a famous phrase from the 1924 Surrealist manifesto, about the beauty of an umbrella and a sewing machine meeting on a dissecting table. For the Surrealists, chance encounters between unexpected entities held the potential for revealing the hidden contours of the world, surprises buried beneath the veneer of rationality that systematize existence, from war to work to language. If Max Beckmann’s snarling, smoking self-portrait is the “S” and a cascade of brunette curls is the “H,” they indicate that second layer of poetic meaning that exists underneath the one we were all taught in grade school. These are Craig McDaniel’s. What are yours?
—Lori Waxman 2019-04-30 12:28 PM