There is much continuity between the childhood work of Leah Craig and her current practice. Of course, most immediately noticeable, is the proliferation of poultry. 'Super chook man' is the subject of her childhood drawing, and her mature work features roast chickens and ducks, and one yet-living pigeon. But there is also a shared focus on urban landscapes. 'Super chook man' is 'flying over the city', indicated by prominent winding freeways, a bridge, and the top of a skyscraper; her recent paintings depict the shop-fronts and garbage-strewn alley-ways that might be seen by someone who turned off those roads into inner-city suburbia.
Her juvenilia and her mature works both incorporate text into the image. In the former, it is the presumably titular 'Super chook man flying over the city and his Girl friend' non-diagetically occupying the top-right corner of the frame; in the latter, it is the shop-signs and labels on the bins and bottles. Finally, in many of her recent works, the adult Craig continues the child Craig's use of empty space to frame the objects of her attention. Compare, in particular, 'Super chook man' with the painting of a pigeon staring at the garbage bags, Pigeon Bin. Remove the former's girlfriend from the scene (and bring the text into the narrative) and the composition is almost identical: two garbage bags/two clouds, metallic and concrete city-scape, intense avian gaze, a lot of empty space.
The most obvious contrast is the shift from pencil and paper to oil paint and canvas. This choice is more significant than it may initially seem. For it represents, above all, training. Craig's several years at art school show in the sophistication of her technique and composition. This can be seen, too, in the shift from the soaring macro-vision of 'Super chook man' to the detailed ground-level observations of her mature work. But what is lost here is the child's sense of freedom. The city, for young Craig, is distant – an idea or a sketch – but for the adult Craig, it is all-too-present. Where once 'Super chook man' could soar high, at liberty and in love, he and his brethren are now not only earth-bound, but in most cases, dead, cooked, and presented for human consumption. In 3AM, meat overwhelms the frame, obscuring the view of the yiros shop that sells it. If the 'chook' is construed as a cipher for Craig's creative or artistic spirit, does this contrast then represent its restraint and channelling at the hands of her instructors, those that taught her to paint so well and present her art for public consumption?
'Super chook man' is also a man. In her juvenilia, 'man' is blessed not only with super-powers but with companionship. The sole human figure in her recent work is alone, faceless, and working at a menial job. The transition from childhood aspiration to adult acceptance of banality, present throughout Craig's mature oeuvre, is at its most palpable here. This is not to suggest that Craig has not gained through maturity. Her paintings are eerily beautiful, somehow rending sheer normality haunting, and display a subtle humour – the cynical descendant of her juvenile levity. I would not wish them undone for another 'Super chook man'.
Andrew Herpich, Writer.