New York Art World

April 1st, 2000

Russell Crotty on the Edge

By Donald Goddard


The idea is to draw whatever is around you, with whatever means, which in Russell Crotty’s case is a ballpoint pen. The place could not be anywhere but Malibu, north of Los Angeles on the coast. There are no skylines like that in Nebraska—only in Malibu, in the hills rising from the ocean—and in fact because Crotty draws nighttime skies, his place is fixed exactly by the position of the stars. There is no escaping where he is. I don’t know about other people, but Americans always know where they are, and it is always a matter of uncertainty. The map is in our souls, this privileged land between Canada and Mexico, the Atlantic and the Pacific. It is a blank slate, and the writing on it is temporal, or temporary, graffiti. Here is the outlet for Europe, for Andre Gide’s Cap d’Asie, and what went before is a complete mystery. Our history somehow began in the Nile Valley and reached up through the Mediterranean into northern Europe. On the West Coast, one looks out to sea toward Asia again, with one’s back to the rest of the country and to Europe so far away. The coast of California is amazingly long and amazingly narrow, already broken off from the mainland. History is no less missing here. Even more so, it is a land of make believe. Even old is new. So there is the sky in Crotty’s work, rising from the mildly jagged line of silhouettes along the horizon. That is sort of what Ed Ruscha sees too, coming from Oklahoma to the Coast—the paper-thin silhouette of civilization beneath the sky, the sky itself as a canvas. Everything is in the sky, and Crotty records it all from his outpost in the Malibu hills. Staying up through the night, he records in notations the movements of stars and planets, the Milky Way, the Hale Bopp comet. He transfers his findings to single drawings, to books of drawings, to drawings covering large lucite globes. In these globes, the sky itself becomes another earth, an alternative earth. Not exactly astrology, but the total field of consciousness, and unconsciousness (in a couple of drawings, Crotty’s poetic observations about the heavens have a kind of chthonian, subterranean existence, underlying the landscape). Abstraction, as an aesthetic and philosophical necessity, is literally the sky and all that is in it. The means are also abstract, and highly material at the same time. The darkness around the stars, which varies according to the amount of light, is simply filled in with the repeated strokes of the ballpoint pen. The strokes portray matter and energy, in other words, the composition of the universe. In the most direct terms, the drawing of the artist is what the universe is made of. The work was exhibited at C/R/G, 93 Grand Street, New York, NY 10013, April 1 through May 6, 2000.

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