Rebecca Crowell at Thomas Deans Fine Art, Atlanta

The paintings of artist Rebecca Crowell, whose work is on view at Thomas Deans Fine Art in Atlanta in Interplay, a dual show with Jeri Ledbetter, are the end result of many processes--including looking, seeing and feeling--all spread out over time. "Many ideas and images pass through my mind as I paint," Crowell observes: "The passage of time and aging, the accumulation of experience, the symbolic and visual aspects of natural processes including stratification, collapse, compression: the ephemeral marks that people leave behind."

John Seed Interviews Rebecca Crowell
Rebecca Crowell

Tell me a bit about your upbringing. Were you always artistic? 

My family moved constantly because of my dad's job as a civil engineer, working on projects that only lasted a year or two. I remember drawing, painting and making stuff all the time--along with reading, art was something I could do in my own little world, even when being constantly uprooted. My parents, although not artists themselves at all--were really supportive of my obsession. They made sure I had supplies, and took me to art museums. I had oil paints when I was 12. At about the same time, my mother introduced me to the sculptor Genevieve Hamlin, a friend of my grandmother's. We visited her studio, and seeing the life she led as an artist had a huge impact on me. From then on, I could picture that kind of life for myself.

Canyon #1, Oil and cold wax on panel, 12 x 18 in.

How did your work develop during your time as a student in Arizona? 

I went in wanting to understand abstraction, but without much clue how to go about that. As an undergrad in Wisconsin I had worked in a realistic way with bits of nature. My painting table was covered with my collections of rocks, shells and dead beetles. In an attempt to use them abstractly, I tried fragmenting and overlapping realistically painted images. In grad school, these bits and pieces evolved into completely imaginary biomorphic forms, and the spaces in which I placed them were rather surreal. I was influenced by the strangeness of the desert landscape. By the time of my MFA show in Arizona, my work consisted of large, very colorful oil paintings full of overlapping and dense shapes, which I rendered somewhat three dimensionally. I can see echoes of that in my work today.

Ciede Fields (Ireland) #1, Oil and cold wax on panel, 36 x 48 in.

Is it fair to say that your work leans towards abstraction, but also is very much connected to a sense of place? Has that always been the case? 

Yes I agree with that: the importance of the sense of place in my work. In some form, this has always been true, a constant thread through various phases of realism, surrealism and abstraction. I have the feeling it connects somehow to all that moving around I did when I was young.

Drezzo Wall, Oil and cold wax on panel, 14 x 11 in.

Tell me about some of the materials you add to your paintings. 

Most of my work is done with oil paint, cold wax medium, solvents, and various kinds of powdered pigments. Sometimes I also use sand, powdered marble, and chalk. I've developed a lot of ways of using these materials and I'm currently writing a book with my co-author, Jerry McLaughlin, called Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations to be published this winter. I also work in water-based mixed media, drawing and monotype. I like working with a variety of materials; each brings out different aspects of expression.

Muro, Oil and cold wax on panel, 8 x 16 in.

What are some of the recent places you have travelled and painted? Can you say a bit about what each location brought to your work?

 Last year was amazing for travel--I was in northern Sweden, Italy, and Ireland, and earlier this year my husband and I spent a month in New Mexico. These are all rugged, remote, and wild in character. Italy was the tamest in that sense, but there I was moved by the sense of history and ancient places. I have stayed most often in Ireland, at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in County Mayo, a place of dramatic contrast; the land covered by soft, textural blanket bogs, and the seacoast very dramatic with high cliffs and jagged rock formations. The weather changes constantly and everywhere are Neolithic ruins. All of this influence my textures, shapes, and colors. I use a lot of lines in my most recent work (such as Travels in Lappland #1 and #2.) I call these "travel lines" and they represent my wanderings on location, trails and maps.

Travels in Lappland #1, Oil and cold wax on panel, 40 x 40 in.

I love John O'Donohue's poem, For the Traveler. He describes an awakened kind of travel that interweaves inner and outward experience. When I'm away, I walk a lot, explore, sit by myself, allow the landscape to move me as it will. When I'm back home, working in my studio, what comes through are memories and longings, and sensory impressions.

Jeri Ledbetter, Rifugio, Mixed media on panel, 48 x 48 in.

Your current show is a dialog with artist Jeri Ledbetter. What have you gotten out of this interchange?

I admire Jeri's use of line--it's bolder than my own, very sure handed but also subtle. It made me think about how I might continue to push my own ideas for line. I also love the way her paintings seem to breathe. A friend at the opening remarked about the dialog between them, saying mine were like the earth and Jeri's like the air. We both respond to our surroundings in very intuitive ways.

Swedish Red #1, Oil and cold wax on board, 11 x 14 in.

What are your interests outside of painting? 

Travel, obviously! And photography. I like to write--mostly my blog, journals and long emails to friends. I'm interested in archaeology--not in a very scientific way, but for its stories, mysteries and for the objects unearthed. I'm interested in certain spiritual topics. I also like cooking and gardening, although not so much when either becomes a chore. I have a life at home that is very normal. I'm happily married, have two adult sons, and I was the primary support person for my mother until she died last year. Of course, I guard my painting time, but I've always had a lot of other things going on. I like to think of making art as just one activity in the flow of life.

Who are some living artists that you admire? 

I know it's cheating but I have to mention Antoni Tapies who died in 2012. Seeing his work in Barcelona in 2008 had a huge impact on me in understanding the impact of place. Walking around that city in all of its gritty, ancient beauty and then looking at his paintings, seeing that powerful, intuitive connection to the city where he lived was so moving to me. A number of Irish artists that I admire come to mind. Living in rural Wisconsin as I do, I don't get to many galleries and museums unless I am traveling. So Dublin is where I have seen the most art in person in the past few years....Charles Tyrrell, Maria Simonds-Gooding, Frances Ryan, Sean Scully, Donald Teskey. I also love Andy Goldsworthy and the light works of James Turrell.


New Paintings by Jeri Ledbetter and Rebecca Crowell
26 Feb - 2 April Thomas Deans Fine Art
690 Miami Circle NE #905
 Atlanta, GA 30324