ALBUQUERQUE — Karsten Creightney is a world-builder. His latest solo exhibition Pieces at Richard Levy Gallery, one of downtown Albuquerque’s anchors, is transportive. As the gallery doors swung shut, I found myself zipped into the margins of new realities created in just nine works on paper, canvas, and linen. 

Working in collage, silkscreen, acrylic, and oil paint, Pieces is preoccupied with spectral flowers that populate the landscapes as both subjects and observers, repeated patterns like halftone dots, and textures created through layering of materials that suggest enormous density just beneath the surface. 

Karsten Creightney, “The Flowers I Never Gave You” (2022), collage, acrylic, oil, and wax on canvas, 40 x 32 x 2 1/2 inches

The diptych “Towards Willard” (2022) pictures — one supposes based on its title — a southbound road heading toward the tiny village of Willard, New Mexico. The perspective sets us down roadside, where the highway stretches toward a horizon line that blurs into low mountains. Collaged bluffs bisect painted ones, and printed images overlap brushstrokes, creating a kaleidoscopic effect in which tiny details (for example, a coyote) emerge like a fleck of colored glass in the terrain. The speed limit is marked at just 25 mph — a visual cue that we’re parting from the world as we know it and entering a slower, softer country. 

While “Toward Willard” is a landscape with familiar elements, the remaining pieces feel otherworldly. In “Renewable” (2022), a black flower stands in for a yellow sun, looming over farmland in an aquamarine sky to create a sci-fi effect that’s eerie despite its vibrant palette. “The Flowers I Never Gave You” (2022) is almost a still life, though the repeated circular pattern creates a frenetic background static that troubles the waters of its subject — a glass vase filled with gestural flowers. 

Karsten Creightney, “Renewable” (2022), collage, acrylic, oil, and wax on canvas, 40 x 32 x 2 1/2 inches

Even the most abstract pieces are enveloping, like “Orchid” (2022). Here, the suggestion of flowers melts into the atmosphere while bipolar lines, reaching in different colors and directions, take the foreground. Masses of tangled line loom from the negative space like rain clouds, evoking the natural world even where it isn’t explicit. 

Karsten Creightney, “Orchid” (2022), collage, acrylic, oil, and wax on canvas, 54 x 48 inches

Each piece, while bound to the earth with its subject matter, contributes to the cumulative effect of a symphonic dreamlike beyond — a new world constructed from the scraps of the old. Flowers — historically rife with symbolism — are planted, inverted, and fragmented. Representing both joy and doom (as in his Invasive Species series), they are perhaps Creightney’s portals. They are images that interrupt, transport, and underline the need for these new worlds in the first place: to clarify both the catastrophe and beauty of the moment, and to suggest the possibility to create something different. Creightney’s process, which involves printmaking, photography, and painting, as well as the integration of found imagery, lends his work an uncanny sense of depth. There is layer upon layer of input, each piece part of a prismatic collection of textures and colors that creates its own gravity; each work a place glued together by the entropy of its disparate parts. 

Karsten Creightney, “Test Pilot” (2022), collage, silkscreen, acrylic, oil, and wax on canvas, 33 x 27 x 2 1/2 inches

Pieces continues at Richard Levy Gallery (514 Central Avenue SW, Albuquerque, New Mexico) through October 22. The exhibition was curated by Viviette Hunt.

Maggie Grimason is a writer and editor in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She edited the collection Visually Speaking: A Companion to Public Art in Albuquerque and is currently working on a book about ghosts.