El Mirage, 1975-1978
Grey Crawford’s "El Mirage” photographic series from 1975-1978, represents his very unique experimental play using minimalistic spacial constructions on a dry lake bed in the southern Mojave desert. These glass and steel plate configurations feel more like performance enhanced sketches that combines the vastness of the chosen site against a hazy horizon that seemingly has no end.
Yet, to fully appreciate the content of these early photographs, we first must understand the cultural climate that they evolved from. The Claremont colleges of the 1960’s and 70’s were considered to be the Ivy League of the West. The community was a liberal island in a sea of Southern California conservatism. The art scene was dominated by the earlier innovations of Millard Sheets and John McLaughlin with a new flux of creative energy stemming from the Graduate schools directorship of Roland Reese. At the time CalArts and the Claremont Graduate school were the two leading art centers in the Los Angeles area. CalArts was led by the teachings of John Baldessari while Reese employed a diversity of talents that included James Turrell, Michael Brewster, Paul Soldner and Karl Benjamin.
Performance and Sound art were flourishing while ceramics was at it highest point in decades. Both schools encouraged a Post Studio Class mentality, where no one specific medium was the focus, rather accumulation of many disciplines with no parameters. Experimentation was the mantra for the 1970’s and Claremont was a perfect setting for this mentality to grow its roots.
Crawford who had done his BFA studies in photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology was a fine blend of east coast technical prowess meeting west coast playfulness. Inspired by the art works of Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson and Hamish Fulton, Crawford embarked on his own interpretation of mixing these various conceptual disciplines to find the flavor he could call his own. The Southern Californian landscape became his palette to draw from using his local knowledge of the area as the backdrop for his sculptures. His configurations were created from a contrast of materials, glass, steel and aluminum sheets, combined together to pull upon their sheer weight and balance to expose their natural vulnerabilities. These unseen photographs from 40 years ago now arranged together, feel far more like a contemporary performance.