This year Graham Crowley won second prize in the Jackson’s Open Painting Prize for his work ‘Grey Drift 3’. In this blog post I take a closer look at the painting and consider Graham Crowley’s working methods.
Graham Crowley describes himself as a post-conceptual painter, seeing painting as a discourse and not a means of producing commodities to be liked, bought or matched with the right sofa. His work is a means of exploring big questions; some that arise out of the very act of painting and others that arise out of the current social, political and broader cultural situation that Crowley sees himself in. Crowley’s work is currently full of juxtapositions brought about by the push and pull of polar concepts that fascinate the painter; illusion and reality, authenticity and synthesis, the academic and the human. Crowley is on a relentless quest to challenge the current, ever shifting orthodoxies of painting. Just like any other conversation, in order to keep going, there is a constant need to respond to what has been said and done before.
Crowley’s painting ‘Grey Drift 3’ depicts the images of three simple dinghies that are afloat on water, possibly a lake by a house and some trees. We make these assumptions because of the presence of reflections, rendered in transparent and expressive brush strokes. Crowley’s description of his work simply stated is ‘illusion and reflection’. The boats are painted in bright, flat colours, as bright as the inverted houses that are also depicted in the composition. What we read as their reflections are as solid and lurid as what we read to be the physically ‘present’ boats. Dancing across the composition is also a series of ellipses which could be read as simply abstracted forms or the surface of the water as rain drops fall on to it. As you allow this illusory world to enfold you in shapes, colours and symbols, the mystery of what you are looking at – the reality and illusion within the painting seems to become ever richer.
The painting combines crisp edges and flat lines with more gestural, painterly glazes of transparent colour. Drawing is very much part of the process when making a painting such as ‘Grey Drift 3′; “Drawing is vital to my practice. Every element is rehearsed in a series of working drawings prior to painting. Depicting ellipses in perspective can only be achieved by careful and precise drawing”. With the solid structure of a good drawing in place, Crowley then renders the composition in oil colours, specifically Winsor and Newton Artists’ Quality oil colours, “because they make things like Underpainting White and gorgeous glazing colours like Paynes Gray, which is wonderful for painting shadows”. Crowley works mainly on cotton duck canvas and prepares it using Rabbit Skin size and “Spectrum Oil Colours excellent Alkyd Thixotropic White Oil Paint Primer”. He also makes very small paintings on prepared MDF.
Graham Crowley sees his work as what it means to be alive. For him painting is akin to meditation and so it is absolutely crucial to allow the moment to not be intruded upon by any overt external influences. “I can’t have any noise when I’m working – even though I have acute tinnitus. NO music and absolutely NO talk radio”. There is no room for feedback or critiques while working either. “When it comes to the opinion of others, I’m oblivious to them when I’m working as I have to be ‘ in the moment’ when painting – not anticipating (nor seeking) the approval of others”. It’s essential that the work is made in isolation in order for it to be a true expression of the painter’s true feelings and thoughts.
Graham Crowley is a painter as well as a teacher of art, having held a number of significant teaching posts including Professor of Painting at the Royal College of Art. He has written a number of important essays on painting and art education, which can be found on his website www.grahamcrowley.co.uk.
Header Image: ‘Grey Drift 3’ by Graham Crowley, Oil on canvas, 91 x 121cm