Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Barbara Crawford

We are pleased to exhibit the paintings of Barbara Crawford. A prolific painter and Lexington resident, Barbara’s work examines memory and place. We spoke with her about her work and inspiration.

Anticipating Memory
32 x 36 oil on linen

Tell us about your upbringing and its influence on your identity as an artist.

I was born in southwest Oklahoma where the vastness of the prarie and its partnering sky still haunt my memory. There is a raw beauty to be found in the starkness of the landscape with its severe contrast between sky and land. This is the heart of tornado country and they were part of the drama of my childhood.
Summers were spent “camping” in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and on the Comanche Reservation. The animals in my life were the longhorn, buffalo, rattle snakes, scorpions, scissor tailed flycatcher, prairie dog, tarantulas, and a pet rabbit called “Peter Underfoot.” My father grew up there and knew every secret fishing spot and every resident: human, animal, insect, bird and reptile. (I killed my first water moccasin at age 8 because he had my fish in his mouth!) I say “camping” but all we really did was throw a sleeping bag on the ground. Every three or four days we would head back into town, clean up and refresh our supplies. I thought all children grew up like this. It was during these summers that my mother was running the family business which was a combination of art supply, framing and toy store. My parents made valuable contributions to the arts in our small town and from as long as I can remember, I had all the free art supplies I could want, in addition to unending encouragement from my mother.
When I look at my current painting I can see a resonating spirit from the landscape of my childhood and the accompanying experiences.

Anticipating Memory
32x36 oil on linen

Anticipating Memory took your work in a new direction from your more traditional landscapes. How did this shift come about?

I think of myself as a painter, not so much as a “landscape painter” but with a strong connection to the land; it seems logical. I do work in series, but to me all my paintings seem connected, where one emerges from another. If I could line them all up in the studio, I think it would be evident. There are only three notable shifts or changes in my work, thematically speaking. I had been doing a series called Felled by Bliss, where there was mostly sky with a low horizon line and just a slip of land. One beautiful October day, while working in the studio, and having just painted one of these skies, but without the land, my husband came to the studio and told me about the shooting at the West Nickel Mines School, the one-room Amish school house in Pennsylvania. Here ten girls were shot, and five died. The horror of that event touched me to the core. Each time I returned to the studio, I attempted to finish the painting but could not. I had the feeling that on that day, October 2, 2006, there was a separation of heaven and earth. From that experience came the sky-only paintings. Later, the inserts were added, as if there was a piecing in parts of memory. This evolved to where the works were enclosed within architectural frameworks with additional arched inserts. The Sanctuary series, with it's animals posed in religious structures, also grew out of that group.
Prelude to the Night
30x40 oil on linen

You spend part of each year in a small town in Italy. How has that environment influenced your work?

The architectural elements in all of the works are obvious references to my experiences in Italy. I have taken my art history students to Italy for over 30 years and my husband and I have had the good fortune to spend our summers there.

11x14 oil on canvas

You have participated in several prestigious residency programs overseas. What is it that you hope to get out of a residency on a creative and personal level?

My first residency—at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts—was valuable in that it offered me the opportunity to deeply immerse myself in long, uninterrupted periods of work.  These periods often felt like a long, deep dive to the bottom of my creative self. When I did surface for air, I found myself among fellow divers, who wanted to talk about their discoveries and to hear about one's own. The result mirrored art itself, in that experiences that were entirely personal became shared experiences. 

The experiences I described were repeated in subsequent residences. But I became more attentive—my gratitude extended—to the qualities of the place of the residency. In Ireland, it was the land, sky and people; in Rome, it was the buildings and the history their bricks and stones contained. Of course, Italian life enriched the experience.

11x14 oil on canvas

Finally, we ask this of all of our artists, what does success in art mean to you?

I find that if my work is based on honesty—with myself, the subject, the materials used and the public—then I have been successful.

Poetics is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through June 28.

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