July 17th, 1996
By Martin Herbert
Russell Crotty is a suntanned Californian surfer dude, and a keen amateur astronomer. A cosmic airhead, right? Wrong. Despite the odds, he makes art of a rare delicacy and depth. Like many before him, Crotty elides the fascinations of his life with his art, emphasizing the obsessive nature of both. For a previous show at the cabinet, an entire wall was covered with tiny thumbnail sketches of surfers~ broadening riding the wave’ into a minor theology. It’s a very LA, Zen idea to see the microcosm in the macrocosm; Crotty’s current attentions to the night sky make inferences of transcendence inevitable, but his new pieces actually work better as expressions of a kind of low poetry. Large- scale sketchpads, up to five feet across, are filled with biro drawings of constellations; the black sky often rendered completely as inky scribble. The desire to represent the ineffable continually bats up against the limitations of the medium, and the work remains poignantly earthbound. Alternating with these are descriptions of nights spent stargazing, which often slip into mantric repetition of phrases and names.
Inevitably, it is the total lack of critical distance from the community being reflected, which makes or breaks the work. The refusal to moralize or analyse is a tradition, stretching back at least to Warhol, but it can easily slide into self-indulgence. In contrast, Crotty combines his insider status and knowledge with the systematic rigour of 70s West Coast artists. There’s a huge density of work here, which pays off in some gorgeous series of images, especially a long parade of astral views vignetted by the circular border of a telescopic lens. And not everyone’s art is checked by the Association of Planetary Observers, y’know.