Much as Brancusi saw architecture as inhabited sculpture, the current body of work by Roger Crawford transcribes art as architecture in all aspects of form except functional inhabitation. Disjointed sections depicting foundation, interior, exterior, angle, surface and structure, coexist in such a way as to present a multiplicity of the three-dimensional construct’s facets simultaneously. The proposition of reconfigured form for simultaneous frontal aspect (explored through the Analytical Cubism of George Braques) continues through Crawford’s exploration of the exploded physical object’s spatial incongruity and relocation in space. Visually deconstructing architecture to partially glimpsed portions, Crawford emphatically is reducing the solidity of construction to immateriality, whereby bricks, cladding, glass, steel, concrete and veneer are reduced to line and form, contingent on the strength of negative space.
Crawford’s palette of mission brown augmented with neutrals and red furthers the argument for a Braque reference; however, this is more intimately aligned to Crawford’s relationship and ongoing exploration of architecture and particularly, the experience of a youth spent in a home commissioned designed by Kevin Pethebridge. It is also the palette of the mid century era as a whole, and as such presents an idyll of domestic modernism. And, while the palette may be grounded in memories past, the physicality of the work is aligned to the contemporary cityscape of glass-clad edifices that reflect and jumble their neighbours’ facades, an experience provided by any view down any city canyon. “The sculptures come from my observation of a world constructed through fragmentation,” says Crawford.
Fragmentation is in itself the act of deconstruction rather than creation, yet within Crawford’s latest exhibition the descriptor is far more than a clever piece of contrary verbiage. The larger sculptures, for example, when viewed frontally, present an exterior construction of fragments arranged for that aspect, yet when viewed from below, the experience is quite different. From this aspect, the materials multiply and refract exponentially, as surface, angle, depth and void jostle with the rhythm of negative spaces dancing through the interior/exterior volume. The space is further exploited by mirrored facing surfaces. This device, by enabling the proliferation of internal complexity, builds the fragmentation of space into a visual whole, far exceeding exterior dimension. Effectively, Crawford’s work is exploring the phenomenon of spatial illusion by denying and supporting physical materiality simultaneously, and melding primary solidity with the illusory reflection.
The small, flat-constructed pieces further Crawford’s engagement with the material of the ‘everyday’ to critically inform the work. In these, while the three-dimensionality is minimal, the figure and ground are displaced as object and wall by an intermediate layer that fits neither, and both, points in space. The physicality of the work further suggests the architectural, with overviews not dissimilar to floor-plans, and textures akin to rough and smooth concretes. They also evoke the works’ concern with mid-century domestic treatments such as timber veneer and aluminium cladding. And while many are in the neutrals of exterior claddings the colour combinations chosen by Crawford for a select few recall the zany interior design hey-days of his youth through pairings such as avocado with sunset orange and the unforgettable fuchsia and mission brown.
This fondness for architectural treatment finds a further realization in the small, predominantly neutral, wall-mounted works. Arranged to facilitate a dialogue between the pieces, each is positioned so that the initial views are confined to a frontal aspect. The work’s spatial location skews a flat reading. In effect, the viewer is forced to acknowledge planar shifts that crimp perspective, in that they position facets as concurrently forward and receding. The earlier mentioned flat-constructed pieces, effectively, are diminished dimensional renderings of these works as viewed from the extreme front.
The paintings’ visual instability completes the evolution towards solidity through the multiplicity of fragmentation. Each brushstroke presents a single fragment, which in layers of shifting tone within a single colour become a field of self-perpetuating repetition that denies focus, as depth of field shifts perpetually back to the surface. Physically the work engages architecture as the domestic scrims of Victorian Era Australia, which multiplied the architectural domestic space through division. The repeated motif echoes the rhythmic movement of negative space within the sculptural works, while Repetition Phenomena exhibits here as the accidental spirals that catch the eye’s passage across the uneasy surface. Taking this idea back to the Analytic Cubism of Braque where an object’s angles are viewed simultaneously, in this work, the city is viewed from all angles simultaneously. The fragments of façade, interior, roof and infrastructure are divided to equally important parts to be viewed as a whole and as one. An idyllic narrative can also be wrested from the glittering surface of the sea, over which Crawford looked from his childhood home. And while these patterns and suggestions exist as influences on Crawford’s imagination, fundamentally, the work is about the material, be that paint or the materials of architecture.
"Architecture is the triumph of human imagination over materials, methods and men, to put man into possession of his own earth. It is at least the geometric pattern of things, of life, of the human and social world. It is at best that magic framework of reality that we sometimes touch upon when we use the word order." Frank Lloyd Wright.
Crawford’s latest body of work dallies with our concepts of architecture, from the grand designs to the simplicity of shelter. It also touches on the perfection of maths through the polygon/re-entrant angle relationship, which the large mirror work resolves beautifully. Most importantly, it is a melding of the formal and emotional elements of architecture and it is here that Wright’s quote fits the Crawford dialogue between man and structure as a “magic framework of reality” touched upon as “order.”