New York

Ford Crull

M-13 Gallery

Ford Crull’s paintings suggest figures, but leave it at that. They invite the viewer not so much to ascribe one particular form to a given instance of shape and color as they do to acknowledge the possibility of figuration latent in a range of incidents across the pictorial field. Sketchy black cartoon lines frequently outline Crull’s shapes and although his gestural technique is reminiscent of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s neoprimitivism, where Crull’s approach differs—and this difference is telling—is in its ongoing deferment of words and explicit iconography. A palette predominantly of pastels and white accentuates the work’s cozy decorativeness—an ironic characterization for art which was heralded as wild during the heyday of the East Village scene.

Crull’s concern with indeterminacy has roots in both Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism and he continues to depend with apparent sincerity on an article of faith that long ago hardened into artistic cliché: the unmediated expressiveness of the gestural brushstroke as a bearer of unconscious meaning. Purged of explicit content, Crull’s paintings are lyrical paeans to the autonomous individual, the free-floating subject. What the work represses in its vestigial representationalism is, on the one hand, the side of Abstract Expressionism that prefigured Minimalism’s acknowledgment of the materiality of the art object and, on the other, Surrealism’s revolutionary intent. The Surrealists attempted to galvanize Freud’s discovery in the service of progressive politics. They believed that plumbing the unconscious through techniques such as automatic writing could serve a liberative function in terms of society at large. In marked contrast to Surrealist practice, Crull’s work perpetuates the model of the ’30s and ’40s avant-garde in reified form, disavowing, in effect, any theoretical progress of the last fifty years. It is instead contemporary feminist art, through its desire to effect social change by understanding the gendered psyche, that more adequately responds to the challenge raised by the Surrealists.

John Miller