At Canada Gallery on the Lower East Side, Rosson Crow exhibits a cohesive set of baroque interior paintings. They are on the sloppy side, semi-abstracted amalgams of oil, enamel, and spray paint, with colorful embellishment of architectural flourishes. Anyone who has ever worked with spray paint on canvas will recognize an archival disaster in these paintings; they are already peeling in some places. In Crow’s case, these structural flaws work to her advantage, add to the paintings’ already forceful sense of layering.
The strongest painting in the group is also the largest. It is entitled “Invitation to a Beheading (Mordacity and His Ilk).” Despite its gory title, this painting, like the others, is mostly concerned with interior decor. What sets it apart is the way Crow uses a figure to balance the composition. It is painted in bulky masses; a carefully rendered head and hands perched on billowy sixteenth century blouse and tights. The figure, perhaps Sir Mordacity himself, is posed before a powerfully painted armoire in which hang several rifle-like instruments. Although there are other furnishings distinguishable in the picture, the figure and the armoire provide a locus around which the rest of the scene freely spins. Crow’s handling of the face most clearly accomplishes this. Unlike the rest of the image, loosely executed with drips and pencil marks galore, the face is meticulously handled, the expression carefully considered. Another hazy, dreamlike figure floats in the painting’s upper left. The whole feels a little like a trip through the looking glass. The effect is delicious and delirious, the sort of sensation I imagine Crow wishes to evoke.
The figure is well employed in other paintings, although it is almost never as large or as isolated as in “Invitation.” In the other painting that comes close, “Analogue Antiquated,” the figure’s face is centered icon style in a tangled mass of architecture; however the artist’s handling of the facial features is not quite strong enough to compete with the environment. When Crow leaves the figure out however, a different problem arises; the architecture threatens to overwhelm any sense of an image, as in “Parlor at Rosedown,” in which the liberties of the artist takes over.
Although the patterns Crow contrives through taping, layering, and peeling are quite beautiful in themselves, it is the balance she strikes with her interior motifs that is most exciting. The best results arise when she offers an offset counterpoint to the swirling architecture that engulfs most of her canvases. At such moments, her work bears comparison with the work of the great Piero della Francesca, whose frozen faces, absolutely lifelike, provide moments of focus in his frescoes.
ContributorBen La Rocco