Clem Crosby’s exceptional show of eleven paintings and oil stick drawings answers complaints in the art world blogosphere about the sorry, generic state of current abstract painting. These modestly scaled, loose-limbed paintings create elegant, seemingly effortless tablets of paint tracks, trails, blots, and drools. It is not possible to encounter Crosby’s work without thinking about the physical tasks of painting, such as achieving a perfect symbiosis between surface and pigment, measuring how much or how little paint to load on the brush and how lightly or firmly to grip its handle. These are seemingly simple tasks, but the extent to which the artist is sensitive to these calibrations in part determines the quality of an experience that only painting can provide. For the painter these ostensibly miniscule, even insignificant tasks, can be teeth-clenching, breath-holding exercises in perfect attention to the moment. The apparent off-hand ease in Crosby’s looping entanglements of line shows his acute intelligence, skill and rigor as a painter.
this is what happiness is, a tango of coiling and uncoiling line, is a tour de force, a lyrical, slightly mad dance in paint. Orange and black lines skate across a rich milky ground of white pigment scraped over subcutaneous flecks of black and orange, giving the work an unsettling nighttime light. The crisscrossing lines hold a consistent velocity and focus, stopped only by the painting’s edge or by judicious paint-laden daubs. Knowing how and when to stop a line is a component of Crosby’s fail-safe compositions, which are predicated on an expanding, entropic grid. To the extent that Crosby’s line is as slippery as an eel, wriggling into weedy thickets, the paintings degrade and disrupt the regulated order and structure of the grid.
Revolver with Distortion is an unspooling grid of sludge-y gray over tints of orange and small interventions of yellow ochre. Again the palette suggests an interior nightlight, the crawling weave of lines and smudges evoking Guston’s bugs or a greatly magnified fragment of rotting textile. Crosby doesn’t seek to ingratiate. He works murky terrain suggesting both disintegration and open-ended reformation: possibilities that outline for those critical of formulaic abstraction exactly “what happiness is.”
Clem Crosby: ”Short Ride in a Fast Machine: New Paintings” @ George Lawson Gallery through October 4, 2014.
About the Author:
Julia Couzens is a Sacramento-based artist and writer whose work has been widely shown, most recently at the di Rosa Preserve. Her drawings and hybrid objects are in museum and public collections throughout the U.S. These include the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts; Berkeley Art Museum; Oakland Museum; Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina; and Yale University. She lives and works on Merritt Island in the Sacramento River delta.