“Devices,” 2018, by Warren Criswell

Painter, sculptor and videographer Warren Criswell, one of the state’s greatest talents, has won the 2021 Arkansas Governor’s Award for individual artist. The awards program of the Arkansas Arts Council, begun in 1991, recognizes artists and businesses for their contributions to the arts in Arkansas. The public nominates the individuals; an independent panel of professional artists in all fields make the selections.


Arkansas got really lucky when Criswell’s bus broke down here and he decided to take up the pen and paintbrush rather than finish the tome he’d been working on. He lives near Benton with his wife, Janet.

Criswell was the subject, along with David Bailin and Sammy Peters, of an Arkansas Times article on the three masters and their long association, meeting for lunch to talk about both the erudite and the absurd.


Full disclosure: I was among the those who nominated Criswell, in which I saId in part:

I have had the privilege of writing about art for the Arkansas Times for more than 20 years, and in that time I have come to be familiar with some of the state’s greatest talents. They are artists whose work is honest, inspired and non-derivative, who are capable of creating beautifully wrought art that will intrigue, challenge and be of lasting worth. The best works stir in me a visceral response to their line, stroke and color. The skill and beauty of Warren Criswell’s work makes my chest ache.

Criswell’s wry commentary on man’s condition draws from a deep well of knowledge of myth, literature and archetype. His painterly depictions of rain-slicked highways (such as “Flash Flood,” of a dejected man carrying his Superman suit down a road illuminated by lightning) and dystopian landscapes (such as “El Dorado,” in which a stork-riding conquistador seeks directions amid a scene of destruction) spring from a self-awareness that is not conceited but Criswell’s means of expressing universal truth. …

Criswell is also an animator, and it is this medium — because we don’t have to possess it to view it — that I can turn to again and again. He makes his signature crows fly, his nudes vamp and a whale turn into Mobius strips in these terrific pieces set to music. Criswell’s hand-drawn animations, the longest of which is a bit over 4 minutes, the shortest mere seconds, are singularly wonderful, thanks to the Criswellian chalk line and wit.

Criswell is also a printmaker and is represented by Gallery 26 M2 Gallery. A book of his drawings, Lenny and the Black Riders, has also been published.


Other Governor’s Arts Awards went to:

Pat Qualls-Taylor of Jonesboro, the Arts Community Development Award. Among her many achievements, she founded a music performance program for musicians with disabilities.

Kai Coggin of Hot Springs, the Arts in Education Award. Coggins, the host of Wednesday Night Poetry, is a teacher and has published three collections of poetry, “Periscope Heart,” “Wingspan” and “Incandescent.”

Bylites, the Corporate Sponsorship of the Arts Award. The event rental and production company has provided assistance to art organizations and festivals, such as ACANSA.


Joe Doster of Huntsville, the Folklife Award. The woodworker and retired teacher is a founding president of the board of the Arkansas Craft School and is both furniture maker and blacksmith.

The Bob Bogle Family of Bentonville, the Patron Award. Bogle and his late wife, Marilyn, have been longtime supporters of the arts in Northwest Arkansas, including Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, The Walton Arts Center, TheatreSquared and more.

Elmer Beard of Hot Springs, Judges Recognition Award. Beard is a poet, author and community activist and was an educator for more than 40 years. He’s participated in Hot Springs’ Wednesday Night Poetry for 30 years.

Trout Fishing in America of West Fork, the Lifetime Achievement Award. Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet have been play and recording music together for 41 years and have released 26 albums, including the children’s album “Big Trouble,” with such memorable tunes as “When I Was A Dinosaur,” “What I Want Is A Proper Cup of Coffee” and “Pico de Gallo.”