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Steven Criqui, 43; L.A. was his canvas

March 16, 2007|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Steven Criqui, an artist who tested the boundaries between painting and photography in his work, using Southern California's coffee shops, gas stations and other small businesses as his subjects, has died. He was 43.

Criqui, who was a lecturer on the faculty of UC Irvine, died March 4 of complications from cancer at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, his brother Kevin said Thursday.

In recent years he was a resident of Highland Park.

With a historian's interest in what he called the "built environment," including the bungalows, strip-mall buildings and small gas stations of earlier eras, Criqui captured Los Angeles "in all its blank, sun-bleached, abject beauty," Christopher Knight wrote in a 2004 Times review of the artist's work.

Criqui often began with a straightforward color photograph or digital image and went on to blend art and technology, using a computer as well as traditional oil paint and canvas.

"To me the computer is ... simply a modern continuation of the painter's long-standing use of optical devices," Criqui wrote in a statement about his work a few years ago.

From his earliest exhibitions in the late 1980s, Criqui's work was reviewed in major newspapers and in leading art publications, including Artforum. He also taught the use of digital tools in traditional studio art at several universities, including UCLA. He joined the UC Irvine faculty as a lecturer in the mid-1990s.

Critics made reference to the aura of mystery in his work. One untitled image from 2001 shows a drive-in carwash at night. It looks typical, except the light shining inside the stalls seems unnaturally bright. It is as if an alien spacecraft is parked there.

Another night scene, "Lavanderia," from 2004, shows a neighborhood launderette shimmering in soft light. On the outside wall is what appears to be a mural of a saintly apparition floating among soap bubbles. The streetlight glows like a small candle.

At times Criqui played up one particular detail in an image. "Spanish Green," from 2004, shows a neat stucco house. The strange front lawn is the color of a ripe lime.

Some images have a mildly sinister quality. A 2001 image of Johnnie's Coffee Shop shows the neighborhood haunt after hours from across the street. It looks eerie and abandoned. In "Otel," from 2004, a motel's tattered neon sign is bathed in white light, suggesting overexposed film. "An ominous quality of surveillance descends over the hapless scene," Knight wrote that year.

Criqui was born Feb. 7, 1964, in Olean, N.Y. He moved to Orange County with his parents in 1977. He earned a bachelor's degree at UC San Diego, where he also was a studio art student. He graduated in 1988 and moved to Los Angeles two years later.

He exhibited his work around the U.S. and in Europe. He was represented here by Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects in Culver City.

In addition to his brother, Criqui is survived by his partner, Nicole Schwab; his mother, Carol Criqui; and his sisters, Marianne Sunderland and Julia Gray.

A funeral Mass is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday at Holy Family Church, 1501 Freemont Ave., South Pasadena.

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mary.rourke@latimes.com

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