A Creepy Christmas in October

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

The Art Gallery showcased this Atlanta artist’s bold art inspired by Shakespeare’s failed work.

By Sarah Best, Staff Writer

Photo by Solomon Smith/The Valley Star

Valley College held a solo exhibition last Wednesday for Atlanta artist Craig Drennen’s “California BANDIT” exhibit, whose art embodied notes of both bright, playful colors and eerie elements of Christmas.

The gallery doors opened promptly at 6 p.m. in the Art building. The exhibit showcased Drennen’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s failed work and the only one never made into a play, “Timon of Athens.” The theme of money being the root of unhappiness is showcased around one of the play’s characters, Bandit. Choosing to build upon the most unknown and controversial work of Shakespeare was a bold choice, but is now what Drennen is arguably most famous for.

“Just like a cheetah spotting the weakest zebra, I was that cheetah and ‘Timon of Athens’ was the zebra,” explained the Ohio University alumni.

Upon initial entrance, the Christmas aesthetic is ever-present with gallery assistants dressed in full elf costumes to drive the holiday theme. The bright orange paint incorporated into nearly every piece of artwork elicits a vibrant note, but upon closer examination, one can see it almost mocks Christmas. The typical idea of the holly jolly Saint Nicholas is replaced by darker, grittier versions, such as the piece of two Santa body puppets dressed in grey suits, laying side by side under a chimney painting — black Xs for eyes.

Photo by Sarah Best/The Valley Star

“Ho ho ho, ha ha ha” repeats throughout the gallery in a deep, ominous voice. Projected on a blank wall are videos of holiday lights, bows and a blurry Santa sitting behind a Christmas tree with black paint around his eyes. The art features an eerie tone that was intensified by the chilling audio.

A massive letter “T” dressed in neon orange hangs from the wall, grabbing the attention of visitors as they walk in the door. Rods of candy canes appear sticking out from the walls and painted on canvases amongst more bright orange. Black and tan stuffed bags with orange dollar signs painted on them sit below some of the paintings, sending a message on the copious amounts of money spent during the holiday season.

When he is not doing a solo exhibition at Valley, Drennen is an associate professor at the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design at Georgia State University. According to his webpage, he has been a part of 18 solo exhibitions and 16 group ones, three of which were held internationally.

Drenne said, “I knew I was an artist from the time I was 3 years old.”

Valley holds a gallery every other year to showcase artists who have proposed their ideas to Jenene Nagy, assistant professor of art and the gallery’s director. Drennen submitted his ideas nearly two and a half years ago and was chosen out of a group of more than 80 applicants.

“I was really interested in the idea of how to do research and how to come up with ideas that are outside of your own head,” said Nagy. “The idea of using something that has already failed — the work is fun and playful but also intellectually rigorous.”

When asked how he likes Valley, Drennen remarked, “I love it here, I think the school is a true gem. The gallery is amazing, and a lot of schools would love to have a gallery this nice. I’ve had a really positive experience — I’m gonna spread the word and tell other artists to submit work here.”

The exhibition will run from Oct. 30 to Dec. 5 in Valley’s Art Gallery and is free to the public.