Inside the Artist’s Studio with Denton Crawford

Most of my family is from the Southeastern U.S. My father was in the military so we moved around a lot when I was a kid. By the time I was 18 I’d spent half my life over seas. I received my BFA from the University of South Florida in 2007, and my MFA from the University of Georgia in 2011. I currently teach drawing and new media classes at RIT, in Rochester, NY.

mixed media collage on mounted paper

End of the Road mixed media collage on mounted paper

I got into drawing in my early teens, which was more of a hobby up until I started school. I was an english major before I switched to the visual arts, and I still have a real affinity for narrative art and story telling. I think of my own work as snapshots from a larger personal narrative. I got my BFA at the University of South Florida, where I stuck mostly to painting that incorporated my surroundings in terms of color palette and subject matter. I wanted to create portraits that evoked empathy, humility and humor. Painting has always been about materiality, surface and color for me. When I went to graduate school I wanted to make big changes to the way I worked. I started painting larger, more abstractly and on various surfaces, incorporating the space around and in front of the paintings, using sculpture and the wall itself. This led to a series of works that engaged a larger space and allowed me to explore my ideas in other ways, and with different materials, where drawing also started to play a big roll. 

Our Church acrylic, gouache and spray paint on pvc

Our Church
acrylic, gouache and spray paint on pvc

Most of the work is driven by conflicting ideologies about various subjects – religion, utopian ideals, the loss of innocence, and metaphysical experience.  A good majority of the source imagery comes from personal adventures, travels, places I’ve lived or visited. It’s a kind of personal narrative played out through my interaction with the landscape and a sense of place. I also like to incorporate what might be considered trite or cliche imagery, like skulls. Attempting to elevate or reinvest something with new or different meaning is always interesting. I like to think of these as moments from a utopian downfall, a perfection not quite attainable, enticing the viewer with color and tactile surface.

Daydreams acrylic, gouache and spray paint on panel

Daydreams
acrylic, gouache and spray paint on panel

I like to keep things playful and responsive in the studio. I’ll usually start with a general idea or plan of attack, often referencing previous works and incorporating things from them that I really like or find successful. I get a lot of ideas while I’m working, so I keep a sketchbook of notes and drawings handy to reference and jot things down. Paintings often start with drawings from the sketchbook or personal photos. I get all of my best ideas from reading, whether fiction or philosophy, novels or poems. Daydreams is based on some of the themes and iconography from Lord of the Flies, which I had only recently read for the first time. It’s so fantastic as an analysis of human nature, a lot of those themes were already present in my work. As form materials and process, I use a lot of tape, stencils, and mediums, there’s a lot of masking and layering.

studio shot 1

For a recent solo show at Joy Gallery in Rochester, NY titled You’re Not Here, I chose to focus more on sculpture and installation. I am always thinking about objects and space in relation to the drawings, paintings and collages that I make, as well as the ideas that inform them. It’s an attempt to create a memorable experience for the viewer, I want to give them a moment that they will not forget. For this exhibition I took the opportunity to make a small installation titled My Disembodied Sermon in room at the back of the gallery.

install shot disembodied 2

This allowed me to incorporate a lot of the things I had been thinking about doing for some time – using a playful approach to material, aesthetic and conceptual concerns, and thinking about religious iconography and experience in relation to objects, space, and what one might consider religious experience. It’s a sort of reliquary.

skull detail

I spent a lot of time in the studio working with a variety of materials including insulation foam, cast foam and plastic, fabricated and found objects, and thinking of ways to combine painting, installation and these 3D forms. I really enjoy working this way and bringing these materials together.

cross home

cross 6

cross 7

neon 2

For more information on Denton Crawford you can visit his website at www.dentoncrawford.com. Feel free to contact the artist via the email on his site. Or stop by the gallery to see his work in our current exhibition, The Assembled Image.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by fabric collage artist Lynne Feldman.

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