Umbra, 1976-79/2017

"I am a visual bilingual, I see in Abstract, and Image. Combining the language of painting and the language of photography one has left the territory of clear distinctions. I want to dissolve the everyday in the river of forgetfulness and arrive on the opposite bank, far from the center; landing at a new place. In looking at our visual landscape I choose elements that add up to a new whole, a visual harmony of "rhyming” shapes creating a visual syntax to view our times. This recombination of diverse elements gives me a place to see our world in a new way. My experience of growing up in Southern California with the work of Karl Benjamin, and John McLaughlin among others was a rich introduction to the abstract painting of this time.”

Southern California in the early 1970’s was an island of its own creation. A mixture of surf and sea, concrete highways winding around an ever-changing cultural climate that was challenging our assumptions of what art is. It was a moment of new beginnings in various medias. The Light and Space movement combined with Performance and Ceramic art ushered in a fresh rawness to a seemingly tired media lending artists new age materials and issues to fuel their innovative experimentations. With the commercial realities lagging far in the rear of their creative counter parts, artists found themselves in a position not to compromise their artistic integrity for the hope of selling something that wouldn’t happen anyway. Conventional means for evaluating art no longer mattered as there was no script to follow. It was a time hiccup the art world would feel forever.
Los Angeles is a city with a sprawling suburban outlay that seemingly stretches forever. In its far eastern sector it hosts a small but culturally important city called Claremont. Home to five colleges and a graduate school it has been a mecca for artists of all disciplines since the 1920’s. This is where I first met Grey Crawford who we commonly call "Bones” as we were both growing up in this liberal thinking community eventually reuniting while attending the Claremont Graduate University. However small the town might be, it was wealthy with former professors and alumni that included the hard edge painters John McLaughlin and Karl Benjamin. Both were considered locals and it wasn’t unusual to see their paintings hanging in neighbourhood homes. Crawford who grew up with Benjamin’s children was exposed to these various shapes and forms at early age and absorbed them into his subconscious.

This is most evident in Crawford’s early black-and-white photographs that combine Benjamin’s sense of construction with McLaughlin’s zen-like capacity for reduction. Drawing upon his classical training from his studies at the Rochester Institution of Technology, Crawford stands out as a unique figure from that time period. His darkroom experiments with paper masks, cut specific to each image and shape, differ him from the day’s topographers such as Lewis Baltz. These masks are used to allow separate exposures in any area he selects, going from white, through grey tones to solid black. Crawford incorporates these hard edge, geometric shapes and lines into his photographs, creating his own landscapes, almost like a stage for an undefined play.