After a Residency at an Astronomical Observatory, Artist Russell Crotty Is Debuting Some Fantastical New Creations

"Paintings Distant and Perilous" at Shoshana Wayne Gallery spotlights the artist's experimental new mixed-media works.

Russell Crotty, Darkness at Perihelion (2019). Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery.
Russell Crotty, Darkness at Perihelion (2019). Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery.

For the artist Russell Crotty, a fascination with the cosmos is more than an abstract fancy. For decades the California-born artist has been practicing amateur astronomy using a series of telescopes to create celestial studies which have formed the basis of this artistic output since the 1990s (his spherical ballpoint pen drawings on fiberglass globes are his most recognizable works).

Recently, the artist was invited for a residency at the University of California’s famed Lick Observatory near San Jose. 

The output of that residency is currently on view in the exhibition “Russell Crotty: Paintings Distant and Perilous” at Los Angeles’s  Shoshana Wayne Gallery, which centers on his work from the past two years. For those familiar with Crotty’s methodical ballpoint pen drawings, two changes jump out: the materials—here a mixed-media mashup of ink, acrylic, plastic, fiberglass, and tinted bio-resin on paper on wood—and the subject matter, abstract and imaginative visions of outerspace detached from observable realities. 

“The new paintings are a different take on astronomy because they depict elements of space exploration and celestial phenomena, but integrate much more of the imaginary in terms of concept, content, and composition,” said Rosie Morales, director of the gallery. 

Russell Crotty, <i>Epic Moon</i> (2019). Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery.

Russell Crotty, Epic Moon (2019). Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery.

In works like Orbital Mini Neptune (2019) or The Super Earth Dilemma 48:1 (2018) it’s possible to see the visual references to complex space stations and astronomical lander equipment as well as retro-futuristic architectural models a la Google architecture. The shapes Crotty has vignetted into splices filled with juxtaposed terrestrial scenes—cityscapes, trees, or views of the moon—suggest ideas of worlds within worlds, multiple simultaneous realities, or even the experience of memory. This surrealist strain is new for Crotty, and in his repeated use of amebic-shapes there are hints of the influence of Arshile Gorky. 

Russell Crotty, The Super Earth Dilemma 2018. Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery

Russell Crotty, The Super Earth Dilemma (2018). Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery.

“His residency at the Lick Observatory allowed Crotty to utilize cutting-edge, top-of-the-line equipment for celestial observation, which opened up his mind and pushed him to experiment more dynamically with imaginary forms,” Morales said. 

This sense of experimentation is evidenced in his material choices as well. Leaving behind his minimalist ballpoint pen aesthetic, for these recent drawings Crotty uses sticks dipped in ink on paper and then layering over these with bio-resin, recycled plastics, or incorporating them in the surfaces to create what the artist calls his “astronomical collage.” These glistening, broken surfaces have a kind of retro-futuristic aesthetic, and simultaneously call to mind earthly oil slicks and environmental crises. 

Russell Crotty, Carbon Star (2019). Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery

Russell Crotty, Carbon Star (2019). Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery.

Nevertheless, the artist maintains that “drawing is still the basis of everything I do,” and rather than create pristine or highly stylized surfaces, a homespun and personal quality suffuses the works. Though drawing from planetary landscapes, mapping, astrophysics, and space exploration, it is the artist’s hand and his devotion to the line that brings the show back down to earth.

“Russell Crotty: Paintings Distant and Perilous” is on view at Shoshana Wayne Gallery through December 21, 2019.

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