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Rosson Crow paints big canvases – often 8 feet by 12 feet. She generally paints interiors, interiors of rooms that may be empty of people but they’ve clearly been lived in, often riotously. These are rooms at peak moments of consumption. Hollywood nightclubs. Wall Street offices. Grand butcher shops. Luxury suites.
Rather than just celebrations of excess, however, Crow’s rooms are caught after the partygoers have left but before the maids have cleaned up the carnage. A typical image in her Focus show at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth is a painting of a San Francisco saloon — depicted after the 1906 earthquake wrecked it. There’s this double-sided feel of lush exuberance and wretched hangover in her work.
CROW: “It’s a presentation but it’s also a critique. It’s like the sobering morning after the orgy of decadence. [Laughs.]”
Crow says she’s long been fascinated by historical rooms. She recalls growing up in Plano and going on field trips there to the Heritage Farmstead Museum. It’s a preserved 19th-century farmhouse.
CROW: “I’d just been fascinated by that. So I’ve always really been into kind of old spaces. I remember when I was really little and playing house with my friends, we always had to play it, like, set in the 1800s.”
WEEKS: “So a sort of Victorian home.”
CROW: “Yeah, we didn’t play regular house. It was always a historical thing. And then we had to do it with British accents.”
Crow is only 26. That’s incredibly young to be getting the kinds of attention and prices she’s earned. She’s had gallery shows in New York, London and Paris. But she’d already hit upon her signature style and subject when she was only an undergraduate at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She became obsessed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s period rooms. These are historic recreations of different cultural moments. They’re not real, Crow says, they’re more like stage sets. Which is one reason her own paintings are so big.
CROW: “I’m making these spaces that I want to seem so over-the-top and so much of a spectacle. I almost want the paintings to seem like theatrical backdrops that you can enter into.”
Crow currently lives in Los Angeles and enjoys going to the public library to pore through old photos and clippings for inspiration. But her period research does not mean Crow’s paintings are historical dioramas. She emphasizes their painterly nature by working fast, her brushwork deliberately splashy and loose. And she finishes by covering the picture with drips and slashes of paint. Paradoxically, these lend her canvases a sense of energy — and dissipation.
CROW: “And also I like the way that the paint sits on top of the image. I like the play of feeling like you can go in the space but then you’re stopped.”
The Modern Art Museum’s exhibition in Fort Worth contains only four canvases by Crow, but she’s selected these brown and blood-red canvases with Texas in mind. Collectively, the paintings are darker, more violent than her usual work. She’s not chosen any of her gaudy, color-saturated images of Hollywood interiors, but she has included a rare landscape, a view of the Spindletop oilfield after the gusher blew. The cluster of derricks look like so many wooden barricades.
The Fort Worth exhibition may be small, but it is Crow’s first museum show. A notable event. And it is on her home turf.
CROW: “It’s really strangely validating in some way and really amazing just to be able to have my parents come and my family and friends. It means a lot; it’s really cool.”
For all of her consideration of the past and of artistic influences like painter Francis Bacon (see her Queens Butcher Shop, above), Crow only belatedly realized one source of inspiration for her rooms – an inspiration close to home. Her mother, Peggi, once designed interiors for private jets.
CROW: “It took me a shockingly long time to make the connection. You have that moment where you’re, like, I’m turning into my mother. But um, I have a lot of the photographs of things she worked on. They’re amazing. So it’s there, it’s in the back of my head. It’ll probably happen sometime.”