oil on canvas, 24" x 36"
Sax Purchase Fund
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.