By NOAH BECKER, October 27, 2020
Ford Crull (born June 6, 1954) is an American neo-symbolist abstract artist. Crull was born in Boston, MA, but lived in Seattle until 1976, after which he moved to Los Angeles to embark on his professional career. While still an art student at the University of Washington, Ford won many prizes at local arts festivals, and was the youngest ever artist to be invited to show at the Northwest Art Annual. Through his work Crull is well acquainted with art critic and writer Edward Goldman, and host of KCRW’s “Art Talk.” Goldman championed the artist’s works, which were in turn acquired by numerous corporate art collections.
In 1983 Crull relocated to New York City, becoming a seminal figure in the East Village art scene. He was part of the very first showing of American artists in the USSR, Painting Beyond the Death of Painting. This coincided with the time Crull was influenced by the philosophy of Dualism. Upon his return from Russia, Crull began using steel framing for his paintings, with the edges burned. It was an invention that came to him after seeing the ancient icons in Russia. The new works were titled, “Relic Series”.
Ford Crull is a New Yorker through and through - his paintings speak of New York's vibrancy as an art world. But he also has traces of art history in his style and diaristic sections within his drastic colorful and feverish mark covered canvases. My conversation with Crull took place in October 2020, on the eve of Crull's October 29th opening from 6-8pm at NYC's Georges Bergès Gallery.
Noah Becker: You are a post-expressionist painter? Is that how you think of yourself?
Ford Crull: I see myself as a Neo-Symbolist painter. This harks back to the Symbolist movement of the late 19th century - James Ensor, Puvis de Chavannes and Odilon Redon are some of the principal artists of the time. In general, symbolism embodies images to which we have to supply our own interpretations, and these images often contain internal ambiguities, such as androgynous types.
What gives my painting a life of its own is that everyone is seeing something different based on their own experience, that way, to the viewer, the painting has a continued life. Some paintings will just resonate with you, when the symbols and pictograms, and icons have this rich elegance, the piece works. It means that the symbols and icons we are subject to daily, vastly influence our lives in a way we are totally unconscious of - and that is what has importance for me. It determines and manifests in our lives and in my work an unconsciousness that I am not cognizant of in my normal day-to-day existence.
NB: What kind of color do you like in paintings?
FC: I gravitate towards red and phthalo blue - both are strong and for me emotional colors. Red can be frighening and dangerous like fire, but it is also the color of Christmas. Red is a highly charged color, displaying passion and fierce emotions...
Blue for me is more spiritual - the deep blue at the end of the day is soothing and yet sublime in it’s essence, it is thoughtful yet powerful. Subtle, yet deeply mesmerizing, it resonates a profound sensibility.
NB: Were you ever a traditional realist?
FC: When I was a boy I drew incessantly. I had sheets of paper roughly 10 by 15 inches, and I covered them with Civil War soldiers. Literally hundreds of soldier drawings, each drawn with the same delicacy as if they were alive. Later I advanced to WW2, with German soldiers attacking the well-meaning but hapless British, grey against ochre, tanks and explosions, and beautiful landscapes where it happened. In the learning stage of my career, especially in college, we worked on figurative and landscapes, but it was never a force in my work.
NB: Why do you paint?
FC: I love to paint, I love the smell of paint (oil) and the way it does different things depending on how you apply it. I love how if you use a lot of turpentine, it forms these rivulets like streams in the desert. Acrylics just can’t match the intensity or viscosity of oils. In early days, I painted landscapes and portraits, but I tried to infuse them with my own nomenclature. . Some paintings will just resonate with you, when the symbols and pictograms, and icons have this rich elegance - the piece works. It means that the symbols and icons we are subject to daily, vastly influence our lives in a way we are totally unconscious of - and that is what has importance for me - it is subtle but real, and infects me like a disease. I try to find why and how these symbols and icons have such a powerful and meaningful reality in my life... Rather, my images are involved in a perpetual dance, a narrative flow that destroys any preconceived notions or verbal meanings.
The colors, brushstrokes, and marks that I put on a canvas transfigure into a profound sensibility that I cannot deal with in any other way. And color is a way of expressing my emotions, and the way it is planted in my works helps tell the story.
NB: How is NYC during Covid?
FC: NYC is the Twilight Zone. In one respect the curbside restaurants are wonderful in that people are not so isolated as in the beginning, and there is a sense of people being connected again. The streets are full of young people expressing themselves as they deal with the new normal. The older of us are not so exuberant, but appreciate the joie de vivre of the young ones. The galleries are the saddest spaces in this pandemic. No more packed openings where we can all meet our friends and make new ones - the few people allowed in at different times feels like zombie land. We miss the way we were all connected and hung out. I also live in Woodstock, so on a nice day everyone is out and seemingly enjoying themselves, but then you see the masks and you realize everything has changed. But it is better than being a prisoner in one’s own home… and not having contact with anyone, especially the single people - it is being a stranger in a strange land... WM
Noah Becker shows his paintings internationally. A visual artist, saxophonist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written freelance articles for many other major magazines. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has also written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube.
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