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Ralston Crawford
(American, 1906–1978)
Construction #4
1958
oil on canvas, 24" x 36"
Sax Purchase Fund

Born in St. Catherines, Ontario in 1906, Ralston Crawford was the son of a ship captain whose family moved to Buffalo, New York when he was four. After graduating from high school, Crawford’s own experiences working on tramp steamers on the Great Lakes, the Eastern Seaboard and the Caribbean provided him direct access to the industrial architecture of ships, ports and harbors. This formative visual experience, along with subsequent exposure to Cubism and other strains of European Modernism, eventually inspired Crawford to create paintings, prints and photographs in the geometricized, Precisionist style for which he is best known. Crawford’s formal art education began in Los Angeles, where he studied at the Otis Art Institute while working at Walt Disney Studios in 1927. He then studied on scholarships at the Academy of Fine Arts and the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania, and was in New York again in 193o-32, studying and painting on a Tiffany Fellowship. Crawford traveled to Italy, France and Spain in 1933, where he witnessed European modernism firsthand and studied at the Academies Colarossi and Scandinave in Paris. Though most of his early work consisted of paintings, comparable in style to the abstracted views of industry and architecture produced by Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth, Crawford also produced work in printmaking and photography. These different media, applied to similar subjects, constantly informed and played off one another throughout Crawford’s career. Construction #4 is one of a series of works Crawford completed in 1958, when he was among ten artists commissioned by the Wolfson Construction Company to interpret the erection of a building at 100 Church Street, in Manhattan. The works of the Constructions series are linked by their use of interlocking, straight-edged shapes of grays, browns and black and white, by the use of short parallel lines or cross hatching, and by the sensation – found throughout Crawford’s art – that what is solid object or open space suddenly becomes a color shape on a relatively flat field, where depth and distance are rendered ambiguous.

In a lecture given when Crawford was the 1961 Summer Guest Artist at the University of Minnesota Duluth, he stated: “In all good paintings there is the possibility of real experience that goes far beyond any simple pleasure principle. I believe that my own attitude toward everything and everyone is different, richer, because I have been in the caves of Ellora and Ajanta and because I have seen the great Catalonian frescoes in Barcelona. Since my paintings offer no qualitative information regarding the visual situation to which they are related, can they be classified simply as designs? If by designs you mean something we find on window curtains or playing card backs, no. If you mean design, a planned organization of my thoughts and feelings, then, yes, they are designs, abstract designs, abstracted from my experience – linked to measurable concrete reality.” (from: Willam C. Agee, Ralston Crawford, Pasadena: Twelvetrees Press, 1983) The Tweed Museum of Art presented a solo exhibition of Crawford’s work in conjunction with his 1961 visit, and acquired the small painting Fishing Boat #1, at that time. Construction #4 was purchased in 1985, along with the lithograph L’Etoile de L’Occident (1955). The recent, generous gift of eleven Crawford lithographs by the artist’s son Robert further broadens the museum’s holdings by this key figure in the development of American art.

 
 
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