The landscape takes many forms in Russell Crotty’s exhibition of large bound volumes and field charts covered in obsessive shrouds of ballpoint pen and watercolor. Where the Santa Monica Mountains have formed a silhouetted footing for his astronomical studies of the night sky, rolling beneath and encrusted with the outlines of the surrounding chaparral, rock formations, and the occasional inset house with satellite TV dishes and antennas, Crotty now makes in this exhibition an expeditionary departure into this semi-wilderness. With specialized collapsible tables and charts bound in durable field- grade nylon he has prepared an extended field study of yet uncharted boulders and new points of cosmic observation in the California hinterland.
The relationship between the terrestrial and the heavenly regions in Crotty’s work is defined by the artist’s place as an observer with both a scientific awareness and a fundamentally subjective engagement with nature and its social-political condition. The science of Russell Crotty is not wholly concerned with the discovery of the unknown as it might be defined by the scientific community, but rather the discovery and documentation of phenomenon that are constantly redefined by their surroundings and by their observer, as the stars and planets that Crotty makes records of in his sprawling ballpoint-jotted pages are specific and have never before been seen over the ever-changing landscape that he describes beneath them. The integration of text into the contours of the landscape’s edge has held a range of content in his work. In Twilight in the West the pages alternate between depictions of mountainous vistas interspersed with an erratically scribed text that forms both a journal of atmospheric conditions and the ranting critique of the encroaching commercial over-development of the once undisturbed surroundings. Perhaps the primogenial cosmos above serves as a point of reference for the changing technological landscape in these works, yet there is still a humor and levity throughout that sets Crotty’s outpost far apart from the encampment of Ted Kaczynski.
“FAR ABOVE THE OWENS VALLEY AND THE 395 CORRIDOR MADNESS OF BLACK SUVS FILLED WITH SKIS AND SNOWBOARDS RACING FROM PLANET HELL AKA `THE SOUTHLAND’ TO THE OVER DEVELOPED RESORT AT MAMMOTH. FROM CONDO TO CONDO THE RACE IS ON..WE ARE STANDING ON A GRANITE LEDGE 4000 FEET ABOVE THE VALLEY FLOOR. HEARING ONLY THE CASCADING RUSH OF INDEPENDENCE CREEK IN THE DISTANCE.” – excerpt from “Twilight in the West”
The works are at times diagrammatic with referential outlines and overlays that form technical but intuitive explanations of the scouted geography and observed night sky. In “Field Charts for Selected Boulder Problems” Crotty has compiled specific guides to the natural surroundings on a determined human scale through the recreational form known as “Bouldering”, wherein rock formations are scaled without the aid of climbing apparatus. The act of surmounting the confronted object in the landscape, simply because it is there, becomes an essential form of engaging and understanding one’s surroundings on a level that is at the root of the scientific or artistic impulse and an expression of our inclination to surpass the frontier, be it imagined or not.