Rebecca Crowell is known for her innovative use of cold wax, in which she layers, scratches, and dissolves the pigmented medium to create textural variety and a sense of depth. While not straightforwardly representational, her works read as cropped portions of mineral surfaces, with fault lines, veins, and calcification, calling up a sense of geological time for her viewers. Crowell is a returning exhibitor with Sager Braudis Gallery, and was kind enough to answer a few questions posed by Gallery Director, Hannah Reeves, about her current work, which will be on view in the Summer Exhibit through July 29th.
REEVES: You’ve been an authority on the cold wax medium for years, teaching workshops and writing about your techniques. How did you learn about it?
CROWELL: Someone at an art supply store asked me in offhand way if I had ever tried it, and it turned out to be the right thing at the right time for me--I was trying to get richer textures into my oil paintings and the medium lent itself to layering, taking imprints and being scraped back. Gradually I discovered lots of ways to use it, sometimes turning to my printmaking background for tools and techniques. It was all about experimenting and trying things out. It took about nine years before I started teaching and putting information online.
REEVES: Are there caveats or tips that you share with emerging artists who think they might want to explore cold wax?
CROWELL: Yes, I encourage beginners to recognize the need for patience—it takes time to understand what the medium is capable of and how to work with its unique qualities. That goes along with the truth that good painting in any medium takes a lot of practice and experience. The qualities of cold wax—its translucency, quick set up time, and ability to hold texture—are unique and beautiful. But I often say the medium itself is not magic. Many beginners are seduced by the interesting effects that can happen right away, but to really progress you need technical skill, a basic understanding of design principles, and clear intentions. That said, the best approach starting out is to play, experiment, explore, and enjoy the process. Just remember that it takes a while to develop a strong and unique voice.
REEVES: How is your creative process related to the ultimate meaning that you want to convey to your viewers through your work?
CROWELL: I would say the creative process goes beyond technique or particular materials, and is really inseparable from our experiences in the world and how we process them. My work comes out of time spent in wild, rugged and sometimes remote parts of the world, and is an attempt to reflect their intricate beauty and raw power. It is about my emotional response to these places, my memories, and a feeling of connection to nature that I feel when I’m there. I think that the layering, texture, and complexity of my work is the result of these responses.
REEVES: Are there movements or artists in art history that influence you, or that you enjoy especially?
CROWELL: I can point to a wide range of art that has drawn me in over the years—from medieval illuminated manuscripts with their delicate detail, to 19th century romantic landscapes, to abstract expressionism, to austere minimalism. One of the most interesting time periods for me was the rise of pure abstraction in Western art, around 1910-1915. I’m fascinated that many of these artists had spiritual ideas at their center, and that the idea of non-referential abstraction arose in different parts of the world at about the same time.
REEVES: It’s always fun to ask: What is your studio quirk?
CROWELL: Well, I am really really messy in the studio. I get teased about it all the time. At the end of the day it usually looks like a tornado came through.