Early in his career, Ralston Crawford (1906–1978) earned acclaim for his Precisionist paintings of architectural subjects associated with a forward-looking, industrialized America. But Crawford was a multifaceted artist with a curiosity for the world beyond the United States, one whose work in various media continued to evolve, with his later, more abstract painting having a remarkable emotional dimension. This new book focuses on two series of works – ‘Torn Signs’ and ‘Semana Santa’ – that Crawford developed mostly over the course of the last 20 or so years of his life.
Rick Kinsel considers how and why his travels to Europe, especially to Andalusia in Spain, were so inspiring to Crawford. Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is observed in Seville with public processions of penitential confraternities. Witnessing this event proved to be a moving experience for Crawford, and he revisited the subject of the penitents multiple times across a number of years.
William C. Agee provides a biographical essay on Crawford’s peripatetic life, examining in particular the relation between the ‘Torn Signs’ and ‘Semana Santa’ bodies of work and the artist’s later decades, after the Second World War, when he was interested less in the life-affirming view of modernity associated with Precisionism, and more in giving expression to disillusion and decay. Crawford’s son John writes about the complex interrelationship of the two series, with emphasis on the way in which Crawford’s photography relates to his painting and printmaking.
Individual works in both series are then explored in depth by Emily Schuchardt Navratil. Reproductions of the pages of sketchbooks from 1971 (the year he was diagnosed with leukemia) illuminate Crawford’s approach to remembering color through writing and his incredible visual memory; here, drawings of torn signs, Semana Santa and the streets of Seville are interspersed with the artist’s thoughts on color, the connection between drawing and writing, and his own life and death.
- Offers new perspectives on the American artist Ralston Crawford, focusing on two related series of works from his later life
- With contributions from experts on American modernism and Crawford scholars, including his son John
- Includes reproductions of pages from Crawford’s sketchbooks, providing insight into his remarkable visual memory and his thoughts on drawing, writing and other subjects
William C. Agee is the Evelyn Kranes Kossak Professor Emeritus of Art History at Hunter College, City University of New York. He was formerly Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Pasadena Art Museum, and in 2011 he was a Fellow at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Among his many publications are works on Synchromism, painting and sculpture of the 1930s, Ralston Crawford, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Donald Judd and Morton Livingston Schamberg. His most recent book is Modern Art in America, 1908–68 (2016).
John Crawford is the son of Ralston Crawford. After studying sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design, he moved to Italy in 1976 and was apprenticed for 10 years to Tuscan blacksmiths. Since returning to New York City, he has made sculpture using large- and small-scale industrial forging and machining techniques. His work has been exhibited at numerous venues in New York and other states. His research on his father’s art has focused primarily on the photographs as a lens through which to study Crawford’s paintings, drawings and lithographs.
Rick Kinsel has been on the board of directors of the Vilcek Foundation since its establishment in 2000. He became Executive Director of the foundation in 2003 and President in 2016, in which role he manages the Vilcek Collection, conceives and facilitates the curation of travelling exhibitions based on the collection, and oversees the foundation’s primary operations in the award of prizes and grants in the arts, sciences and humanities.
Emily Schuchardt Navratil is the Curator at the Vilcek Foundation. She has worked with the Vilcek Collection since 2009, previously serving as Associate Curator, Assistant Curator and Curatorial Assistant. For the foundation, she has curated the exhibitions With Color (2013, to coincide with the publication by Merrell of Masterpieces of American Modernism from the Vilcek Collection), Ralston Crawford: Torn Signs (2019; catalogue published by Merrell) and Marsden Hartley: Adventurer in the Arts (2020; catalogue published by Merrell).