Grannan is a contemporary painter and graphic designer who works in a variety of painting styles, but always retains a sense of identity. He paints primarily in oils on canvas and panel board. It is not uncommon for him to use Dorland’s wax medium in his work, to emphasize the living and breathing texture on the surface of the final piece. The storyboard quality of the broken spacial environment draws you in, and you are left questioning your observations.
“I have been an artist as long as I can remember,” Grannan explains. “It’s always been the core of who I am, and my path has always followed that of an artist”.
Kurt Grannan has a BFA from Columbus College of Art and Design, and an MFA from the University of Cincinnati. He has had an engaging professional career as a fine artist, commercial artist and illustrator. He has many published illustrations, logo designs, and book covers. He also has multiple commissions, a continuing gallery presence, and is a college level professor of art who has just finished a two-year appointment as a Visiting Assistant Professor, at Mississippi State University.
Kathe Kollwitz offered us insight into the human condition, hunger and the tragedy of war. The viewer, deprived of the experience is able to feel the human connection through her work. The physical drawings are portraits, but what I find more compelling is the social commentary she explored in her studio. Kathe’s work has always connected with me because of the union between the subject matter and the artist, between the viewer and the viewed. The studio, where it all comes together becomes symbolic for the connection between an artist, social change, and the promise of future work.
Art as social commentary is a major theme in modern and contemporary art. One whose goals are to retain what is good in society and diminish what is detrimental. A visual image has the ability to simplify and bring to the surface complicated socio-political issues that our society overlooks or hides below the surface. The work becomes visual propaganda. Combining an interest in social change with the field of art is a way to promote awareness, provoke dialogue, and inspire action.
I believe the greatest voice heard is through creating contemporary art that addresses critical environmental, social, racial and cultural identity, or human rights issues. With images you spark emotion. Combining this ingredient, art becomes a powerful voice and a way to reach people on a different plane.
With these beliefs in mind I am compelled to paint. The paint and my studio become one in the same. The texture, the smell, the brush strokes, become mingled with a voice to connect ideas, images and the viewer.
As a contemporary artist, Kollwitz embraced the responsibility to present a social commentary on the realities of society. What I want is to see through my own eyes to connect art and ideas for positive change.
There is currently an influx of heroin overdoses in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, and it is time to bring this issue to the forefront of conversation. I have never used, or thought about using heroin. However, I have felt the effects of this drug from the tragic loss of life of college students, I have felt the effects of this drug from friends who have lost family members and I have felt the effects of this drug in my community. I feel it is my responsibility to use my creative talents and collaborate with other participants to move forward on this issue.
I am collaborating with Dr. Jeremy Engel, who is forming a task force that includes St. Elizabeth Hospital and the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and is also starting the Shining Wire Institute, whose goals are to fight, treat and prevent the destructive force of heroin in our community. Kentucky Health News, “Heroin use is reaching such high levels in Northern Kentucky that experts are calling it ‘an epidemic.’”
I am compiling letters, notes, sketches and pictures from first hand interviews of addicts, recovering addicts, mothers, sisters or anyone else who has been impacted by heroin. I am looking for a pattern to appear and at this point I am focused on ‘Mothers of Addiction’. What I have discovered so far is that this drug segments lives. The physicality of an individual, the family structure and friendships that were whole at one time, end up sectioned off. But, what is also unanimous is that segmented is better than dead. My purpose is to help individuals stay on track, help prevent the recruitment of new heroin users and help change lives. Through activism & art and my participation with the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact & Response Workgroup, I am developing a call to action through visual imagery.
I am also currently involved with Smoke-Free Kentucky coalition, focusing on secondhand smoke as a public health hazard. Smoke-Free Kentucky is a coalition of organizations and individuals who support making all public and workplaces 100% smoke-free in order to protect citizens and workers from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. In response, I created a website for people to send an email or letter in support of getting the law changed. We have over 150 letters posted on the website. I have developed posters, folders and mailers, all based on a my paintings. The work has been distributed at conferences, flyers sit on tables at doctors offices and posters hang on many walls. The main graphics used in this campaign are my paintings that are based on the letters from concerned citizens. They are not direct illustrations of their stories but a response to them.
Through this research I have made an interesting discovery: when you include someone, you’re earning a moment and breaking down barriers that can hinder a visceral dialog and you unlock the door to a creative space. Within this experiential space, events, artwork and campaigns can be set into motion. Once in motion the work and the artist become a transformational leader assisting in bringing about a positive outcome. All who participate become connected to the visual art and become storytellers. A space like this is not always predictable, but that’s okay. The more participatory it is, the greater a role it will have in the art direction. It becomes human-centered design based on the need to correct what is wrong and be a part of change for the greater good of all.
Art can play a role as a service to humanity. When a creative, uses their talent to address a social issue, change is on the horizon. This sort of thinking can add depth to their work and at the same time promote positive change to better humanity.
Graphic design can play a role as a social commentary. This role by artists has been around for centuries. It is as prevalent now as ever. There are hundreds of examples we could discuss from graphic designers to fine artists, like Goya to Banksy, but one I would like to reference is a painter, Eugéne Delacroix from French Romanticism. Many works from this period exhibit design principles, color theory and branding principles through an expressive use of paint and layering of a story. Tension between brightly colored reflective areas, dark shadows, brilliant pure pigments and energetic brush strokes help create a focal point and a dialogue between the painter and the viewer. He painted Liberty Leading the People (La Liberté guidant le peuple). It was expressive. It addressed critical, social, and cultural identity. It sparked emotion. All of these elements combined become a powerful voice and takes on qualities of visual propaganda. Art for a cause. This process influences my work and plays a role in my teaching.
It is vital that the foundation experience teaches students how to see, how to handle different mediums, and how to speak critically about their own work. But they should also start to develop a more complex notion for creating art and understanding that “with great skill comes great responsibility”. Taking on projects that make a difference, promote awareness, provoke dialogue, and inspire action are fulfilling and promote change. Ideas like this can be introduced within the assignments, so the learning outcome not only highlights student’s strengths but also shows their ability to research and visually express themselves on a complex cultural subject matter.
Another point I emphasize when teaching students of all levels is how to approach problem solving. This is a skill that can be carried over into all aspects of life. One way is to give an assignment with many variables to the answer and certain requirements to be met. What I want is for the students to move past the obvious and unbending way of looking for ideas and search for something new and different. The use of a word wall and thumbnail sketches are a practical way to start eliminating the obvious and exploring deeper into a concept. I use lateral thinking at Grannan Design Ltd., during brainstorming sessions at the startup of new projects. I want this approach to be second nature to my students because chance can then encourage other ideas. The end result is more often then not, new and fresh.
Thinking this way can help students on many different levels. One is how to approach problem solving and another is helping them think critically about what is important. Views on social issues vary from person to person. But, my intentions are to motivate graphic designers to look at the world around them and decide what role they could play in modeling it.
© Copyright 2014, Kurt Grannan