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Artweek

January, 1999
Dan Bernier Gallery

Russell Crotty

By Meg Linton

 

Russell Crotty’s new works on paper possess a boyish charm and continue his patient and seemingly endless investigation of the celestial. The show, titled Hiding Out on Solstice Peak, featured detailed India ink drawings of specific globular clusters in Sagittarius and Leo, nebulas in Ursa Major and Orion, galaxies in Leo, and much more. It all sounds so exotic and cosmic to the non-astronomer, the uninitiated, but also familiar, comforting, and even nostalgic in a way. As with many artists working today, Crotty has rekindled a favorite childhood pastime – in this case astronomy – and has brought it into the studio. (Once again, science and art marry.) He has built his own telescope, placed it on the top of a mountain, and is able to see the great beyond, which seems impossible in our artificial, light-infested city. His findings are recorded on white square sheets of paper using only black ink and shades of gray, and he labels all the constellations with their appropriate number and a few quirky descriptions such as “NGC 246 in Cetus: under dark transparent skies this nebula takes on the appearance of a Halloween pumpkin that’s rotting. Very Creepy.”

Crotty approaches his vast subject matter planet by planet, star by star, and galaxy by galaxy with the same tireless curiosity as an eight-year-old. His drawing style is more like sketches found in a high school kid’s notebook rather than a scientist’s journal. However, the Association for Lunar and Planetary Observers, an organization to which the artist belongs, finds his work interesting and valuable for their purposes and might even appreciate his subjective and occasionally poetic insights.

By now there must be hundreds if not thousands of Crotty’s stellar drawings. Sometimes the difference between the images is vast and other times it is almost imperceptible. The repetition, to the impatient or astronomically challenged, can be overwhelming and a tad monotonous. His cataloguing of all this information by hand speaks of systems of knowledge and scientific discovery, as well as an individual’s need for firsthand experience in an ever-increasingly Memorex world. His passion for the intricacies of space and time endures, bordering on obsession, and doesn’t look like it will be waning anytime soon. Michael Duncan coined the best description of the artist by calling him “a chronicler of infinity.” He is as constant as the stars he draws.