Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mid-Missouri Landscapes: Keith Crown and Joel Chrisman

I am pleased to announce the inaugural hanging of the MU Student Center’s paintings of the Mid-Missouri landscape by Keith Crown and Joel Chrisman. These works depict both urban and rural scenes in their portrayal of downtown Columbia and the MU campus, Mizzou’s dairy farm, and the countryside of Ashland, Missouri. The paintings are currently on view on the first floor of the Student Center near U.S. Bank.

(Left: Crown, Columbia and the University of Missouri, c. 1980s; Center: Crown, Missouri University Dairy Farm, c. 1989; Right: Chrisman, Deer Park, 2008

Keith Crown (1918-2010) is an internationally renowned Modern artist, most often recognized for his experimental work in watercolor. Crown was born in Iowa, but lived a rather transient life, working and residing in numerous cities worldwide. His travel is reflected in his body of work, which includes views of the California coastline, the mountains and pueblo at Taos, the gothic architecture of London, and the industrialized landscapes of the Midwest, among other subjects. In 1983, after teaching for several decades at the University of Southern California, Crown retired to Columbia, Missouri where he continued to paint and lived out the remainder of his life alongside his beloved wife and intellectual cohort, Dr. Patricia Dahlman Crown, an emerita professor of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art history at the University of Missouri.

Although Keith Crown sometimes worked in other mediums, he was primarily a watercolorist. In painting his stylized landscapes, Crown preferred watercolor because of its ethereal quality. The artist achieved this otherworldly feeling in his paintings through the use of experimental techniques, such as airbrushing, and by conceptualizing the composition in a 360 degree view. Crown painted his landscapes on location and would often imagine himself at the center of a composition. In these 360 degree view paintings, Crown depicted the landscape that lay before him in the upper-half of the composition and in the lower-half he would paint an inverted view of the landscape behind him. This approach creates two separate horizons within the same image and allows the painting to be hung in different ways. Sometimes Crown even signed a single work multiple times on different corners to reinforce the perspectival quality of his work.
Crown, Columbia and the University of Missouri, c. 1980s

In this painting, Crown depicts downtown Columbia as it edges into the campus skyline. Notably, the view appears to be from near Keith and Patricia’s former home on Edgewood Drive. Though stylized, several buildings are identifiable: the gothic pinnacles of Memorial Tower are visible in the center right; buildings from Francis Quadrangle peak just above trees; and Jesse Hall looms large on the far right, shown with scaffolding used to make repairs in the early 1980s.
Detail of Columbia and the University of Missouri shows Jesse Hall with scaffolding.
This abstractly rendered cityscape is composed of rich patches of blue, purple, green, sienna, and ochre, which are contrasted against muted transparent washes of pink and gray in the sky and the foreground. The wide swaths of color that make up the lower-half of the scene conjure associations with color field paintings, like those by mid-century artist Mark Rothko.
Crown, Missouri University Dairy Farm, c. 1989
In the watercolor Missouri University Dairy Farm, Crown depicts views of the University of Missouri’s dairy farm in northwest Columbia. The upper-half of the painting portrays farm buildings atop a grassy hill, while inverted trees and power lines fill the lower-half of the composition. The two perspectives are divided by the slightly curving white line that runs across the center of the picture plane, which represents a road. The painting is interspersed with patches of translucent and saturated color, created by varying the amount of water mixed with pigment. Crown created the most saturated areas of color using a dry brush technique in which the pigment is not diluted. The vivid colors he chose for the landscape and the airiness he was able to achieve through the use of watercolor communicate feelings of warmth and tranquility that transport the viewer to the sunny countryside.
Chrisman, Deer Park, 2008

Unlike Crown, here Joel Chrisman (b. 1947) employs pastel to render the Missouri landscape. The sky is composed of layered slanted hatch marks in shades of blue, gray, white, and pale violet. Historically branded as a tool for sketching, pastel lends itself to quick gestural impressions. It is therefore a useful medium for Chrisman who seeks to capture the spontaneous play of light and shadow. In this sense, and in Chrisman’s depiction of the landscape at different hours and seasons, his work also invites association with nineteenth-century Impressionists, some of whom notably used pastel. In Deer Park Chrisman crafts a playful composition with a low horizon line. The scene, which is dominated by empty space and leaves only a small slice of earth visible at the bottom, is visually comparable to paintings by fellow Midwestern artist Keith Jacobshagen (Nebraska, b. 1941).

Authored by Sarah Horne & Nicole Eaton, PhD Students in Art History and Archaeology
To learn more about Keith Crown and Joel Chrisman, and other works by these artists in the Student Center's collection: