Ford Crull, New Paintingsby Jonathan Goodman
Ford Crull is a mature painter who has been involved in the New York art scene since the 1980s. His sprawling, attractively disheveled abstract work shows strong feelings for the nonobjective style, in which random patterns and complex densities of paint build up to a surface of intricacy and abandon. Born in Boston, Crull has lived in New York for many years, and has mastered the passionate style of the New York School. Working both in color and black and white, his dense, complicated paintings create a random patterning that describes deeply painterly textures which closely set with abstract effects. Some of these paintings consist of spheres separated to some extent by space in the composition; these remind us of improvisations related to abstract expressionism. There is a real affection for paint itself in Crull’s art, which reminds us that even today, a good bit into the century following expressionism’s high point in the 1940s, there is room for well-considered and well-made work that takes that period as a point of reference. Crull’s inspiration makes him an attractive painter who looks to the past but who shows no anxiety about present developments in art.
Recently, Crull began his Crossroads series, based on his seeing intersection out of planes. He has remarked on the distinctiveness of the pattern, while at the same time noting that because of the limitations of sight in the plane, the paths of the roads can only be seen partially—for a moment in time. His work is highly effective in an aesthetic sense; the paintings remind us not only of intersections, but of the cross of Christianity itself. To what extent this reference may be taken as a serious comment by the artist is up to the audience; but it is clear that Crull risks at the very least an open discussion of the image as religiously symbolic. One can be sympathetic to the implications of the art while remaining agnostic about its piety—or the devoutness of the artist himself. The point is that Crull has been successful in his combination of the old and the new, demonstrating how an image can call up the past and at the same time be responsive to present conditions in painting. Art like this needs to be taken seriously—not only because of the implications of the image, but also because very few painters are trying to build a bridge across time.
For these works, Crull makes use of old paint cloths, used to wipe paint from the canvas or off of his hands, whose random colors actually become quite decorative in his hands. In Crossroads (2014), the spots and spills are inherently expressive, and they become the unit by which the artist creates his crosses. Collaging the cloths on top of each other, Crull builds a lively, colorful image that in the case of one work, stands out against a deep, dark background. There is something genuinely charismatic about the contrast between the colorful cross and the black ground against which it stands. The collaged cloths overlap, resulting in texture and density that is physically attractive. It is hard for most viewers, I think, to push away the Christian element of the image, yet Crull’s art is not so much about sorrow as it is about the joy of art. So in this sense, the bias is positive and contemporary rather than tragic and historical. At the same time, the particulars of the cloth’s hues, improvised and free, lend a real feeling for esthetic pleasure. Crull has constructed a contemporary icon, one that we can only admire for its dynamism and free spirit.
Station 3 (2015) reprises the basic structure of the painting Crossroads, although this time the painting is more vertical, with an elongated cross on a white ground. Perhaps because of its historical presence across time, there is something deeply satisfying about the gestalt of the picture. Once again, the paint cloths build to a near symphony of differing shades, although in this work, the colors are darker, not so bright. The white background has small patches of color—reds and greens and yellows. The simple structure looks like a wooden cross, accentuating the spirituality of the composition, which is reinforced by the use of the word “station” in the title. A different version, called Doublecross (2015), turns the crosses into organic, flower-like patterns. It is a diptych, with a mostly red cross against a white background on the left, and an even more colorful organically shaped cross against a dark, mysteriously colorful background. The two images work synergistically, resulting in a picture that is memorably structured and hued. Crull is an artist of genuine invention, being someone interested in the abstract interplay of color and form. His work reminds us that good painting continues to exist now, even if it is surrounded by a sea of weaker art.
JONATHAN GOODMAN is a teacher and author specializing in Asian art, about which he has been writing for more than twenty years.