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Rosson Crow at the Modern in Fort Worth

by Jerome Weeks 8 Apr 2009 7:13 AM

Rosson Crow paints big canvases – often 8 feet by 12 feet. She generally paints interiors, interiors of rooms that may be empty of people but they’ve clearly been lived in, often riotously. These are rooms at peak moments of consumption. Hollywood nightclubs. Wall Street offices. Grand butcher shops. Luxury suites.


Rosson Crow in front of Queens Butcher Shop, 1910 -- oil, acrylic and enamel on canvas, 2008

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Rosson Crow paints big canvases – often 8 feet by 12 feet. She generally paints interiors, interiors of rooms that may be empty of people but they’ve clearly been lived in, often riotously. These are rooms at peak moments of consumption. Hollywood nightclubs. Wall Street offices. Grand butcher shops. Luxury suites.

Rather than just celebrations of excess, however, Crow’s rooms are caught after the partygoers have left but before the maids have cleaned up the carnage. A typical image in her Focus show at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth is a painting of a San Francisco saloon — depicted after the 1906 earthquake wrecked it. There’s this double-sided feel of  lush exuberance and wretched hangover in her work.

CROW: “It’s a presentation but it’s also a critique. It’s like the sobering morning after the orgy of decadence. [Laughs.]”

Crow says she’s long been fascinated by historical rooms. She recalls growing up in Plano and going on field trips there to the Heritage Farmstead Museum. It’s a preserved 19th-century farmhouse.

CROW: “I’d just been fascinated by that. So I’ve always really been into kind of old spaces. I remember when I was really little and playing house with my friends, we always had to play it, like, set in the 1800s.”

WEEKS: “So a sort of Victorian home.”

CROW: “Yeah, we didn’t play regular house. It was always a historical thing. And then we had to do it with British accents.”

Crow is only 26. That’s incredibly young to be getting the kinds of attention and prices she’s earned.  She’s had gallery shows in New York, London and Paris. But she’d already hit upon her signature style and subject when she was only an undergraduate at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She became obsessed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s period rooms. These are historic recreations of different cultural moments. They’re not real, Crow says, they’re more like stage sets. Which is one reason her own paintings are so big.

CROW: “I’m making these spaces that I want to seem so over-the-top and so much of a spectacle. I almost want the paintings to seem like theatrical backdrops that you can enter into.”

Crow currently lives in Los Angeles and enjoys going to the public library to pore through old photos and clippings for inspiration. But her period research does not mean Crow’s paintings are historical dioramas. She emphasizes their painterly nature by working fast, her brushwork deliberately splashy and loose. And she finishes by covering the picture with drips and slashes of paint. Paradoxically, these lend her canvases a sense of energy — and dissipation.

CROW: “And also I like the way that the paint sits on top of the image. I like the play of feeling like you can go in the space but then you’re stopped.”

The Modern Art Museum’s exhibition in Fort Worth contains only four canvases by Crow, but she’s selected these brown and blood-red canvases with Texas in mind. Collectively, the paintings are darker, more violent than her usual work.  She’s not chosen any of her gaudy, color-saturated images of Hollywood interiors, but she has included a rare landscape, a view of the Spindletop oilfield after the gusher blew. The cluster of derricks look like so many wooden barricades.


Jukebox at Tootsie's, 1972 -- oil, enamel, spray paint and acrylic on canvas, 2007 -- NOT in the Modern show

The Fort Worth exhibition may be small, but it is Crow’s first museum show. A notable event. And it is on her home turf.

CROW: “It’s really strangely validating in some way and really amazing just to be able to have my parents come and my family and friends. It means a lot; it’s really cool.”

For all of her consideration of the past and of artistic influences like painter Francis Bacon (see her Queens Butcher Shop, above), Crow only belatedly realized one source of inspiration for her rooms – an inspiration close to home. Her mother, Peggi,  once designed interiors for private jets.

CROW: “It took me a shockingly long time to make the connection. You have that moment where you’re, like, I’m turning into my mother. But um, I have a lot of the photographs of things she worked on. They’re amazing. So it’s there, it’s in the back of my head. It’ll probably happen sometime.”

  • These paintings have all the problems that the new art movement, post-modern art is against. Cold, disjointed, non communicative, weird, elitist (who would put this in their house?) technically OK but not extraordinary, pompous and inflated, shallow with little breadth or scope. The old art has painted itself into a corner.
    Time for a revolution with a back to basics approach- in painting.

    • Tracy

      LOVE IT! So much energy! A nice bridge between contemporary and traditional art…

  • Sarah

    I’ll be going to the Modern next week….can’t wait to see Crow’s work in person! I disagree with Tom…what’s interesting and new about going “back to basics”? What’s admirable or inventive or progressive about doing something that’s been done before? Art like this is supposed to be thought-provoking, different, striking. Otheriwise, it would be as easy to dismiss as a realistic still-life — and just as boring.

  • Every day the staff here at the Heritage Farmstead Musuem in Plano are able to interact with and teach our visitors about life as it once was on the Texas Blackland Prairie. Our youngest visitors spread their joy and enthusiasm with each question and smile they return to us.

    Having Ms. Crow validate what we do here each day insures that history learned and experienced makes a lasting impact on todays youth.

    Children learn through their experiences, listening, feeling, smelling and doing all confirm our mission of teaching about our history and keeping it alive in the hearts and minds of our young guests.

    • Jennifer

      I can’t wait to check out Crow’s art in person. Her choice of subject matter is definitely intriguing.

  • Sarah, Back – to – basics art means art that is innovative instead of trendy, profound instead of weird. It opposes the abuses of the gallery system, supports the mass marketing of art as exact copies, advocates breadth and depth of subject matter, art styles, and techniques; communicates clearly without the artist having to explain it; brings art out of the ivory tower museums and brings it to people everywhere; puts art to work as an integrated part of our lives. Lots of that is new, all of it is innovative, and none of that is boring. See the Dallas art events that have challenged the abuses of Modern art.