John Crossley: Ebb and Flow, 2022
It is in the nature of good painting to discomfort and disturb us at the same time as it seduces us. John Crossley’s paintings draw us nearer with luscious colour and intensity, a luxurious storm of saturation. Plates of land shift, arcane maps are scribbled and signs are made. He occupies his studio with the shifting of masses, the delicate tracing of filaments and the precarious balancing of shapes, his instinct to make informed by his early training as a sculptor, and working for Anthony Caro, and enriched by his knowledge of form and mass and his light, deliberative, deft touch as a painter.
Working in the studio is complex, the smallest decision changes the whole and the elements are many and varied including form and surface nuance, colour and touch, the subtleties of texture and the architecture of composition. Crossley works with these complexities deliberatively and intuitively in a constant engagement of response, reflection and construction. It is in this absorbed engagement in the studio, this intense activity of making, that these paintings come to reflect his ideas and observations, the teasing hints of narrative which emerge in the form of paintings. He knows that work comes from working, and he is a master at response.
So, when Crossley is out walking, seeing the sky and its nuanced blues and creamy whites, hearing the crunch of shingle and the suck of the waves, the sea’s transitions from battleship grey to sparkling blue, following a winding footpath or negotiating wild hazards in yellow, red or violet, then he is beginning the work, preparing for the studio. Tchaikovsky’s advice to Ethel Smythe on making music was that she should sit on the terrace of a cafe and listen to the sounds of the world. John looks at the world close to him and a process of transformation begins, leading him to the studio and the construction of beautiful, luminous paintings. His move from London to Suffolk and the sea, distinguished residencies in Aldeburgh and on the Isle of Elba, have all added to the emergence of this painterly exuberance.
John Crossley successfully lures us into his world, where we are prompted to see and feel a full spectrum of emotions and insights, observations and speculations. Clouds, missing parts of the jigsaw, the threat of the red wedge, joyous, teetering snapshots of sand and sea, violent interruptions and a tranquil pool. We search these maps for the enigmatic clues to where we are, what we are thinking, and are left hovering between tranquility and tragedy, an interior map or a hastily penned escape route - battle plans or a rural ride; are we cast adrift or simply languishing in a cobalt blue pool? We are on this journey, which reflects our lives, not abstract but abstracted by John Crossley.
Foreword to 'Sixty Four', The Cello Factory, London, 2017
John’s work is a masterclass in tightly controlled paradoxes: the steadfast blocks of colour are timeless, but the essentially transient quality of the organic shapes that gently drift across his compositions are playfully ephemeral. Reductive, flat planes of colour are juxtaposed with areas of complex, layered pattern rendered with sophisticated, rhythmical brush strokes. There are clearly both simple and complex dialogues between form and colour in his work.
Whether John is working in oil or gouache on paper, or on an intricately constructed mono print he takes obvious delight in the textures of his materials. He uses beautiful thick paper which grasps the pigment, and ink or paint is generously deployed in layer upon gleaming layer. The effects are sensual and his works are wonderfully tactile.
His work also celebrates the two-dimensional. There is no perspective or depth, no light and shade, nor even tone in his work. Instead he embraces flat planes and explores the potential of negative spaces and of pattern and rhythm. There is rigour here too: the strictures of the square format of the works point to a willingness to grapple with self-imposed formal conundrums. A recognition that apparent playfulness rests upon a delicately calibrated compositional tension.
Another striking quality of John’s work is its gregariousness. These are wonderfully sociable works. They invite conversation with the viewer and leave enough space for an ongoing dialogue to emerge and then to flourish. A visit to this exhibition, with its convivial selection of paintings and prints from the last 20 years is time well spent in excellent company.
John’s work is a bit of an enigma. Is it terribly intellectual and cohesive in its dialogue between form and colour, the said and the unsaid? Or is it simply joyous, and dare we say it, decorative? The answer is, it is sophisticated enough to be both. This wonderful exhibition is an eloquent testament to this fact and yet, while it is our great pleasure to be celebrating the achievements of this wonderful artist in retrospect, as two relatively recent converts, we are equally thrilled at the prospect of what lies ahead. Congratulations John; and here’s to another 20!
Introduction to 'Into the Light', Bicha Gallery, London, 2011
John Crossley’s affinity for colour has underpinned his continuous practice of painting following in the wake of his early interest in sculpture. Through his use of colour and form, he has evolved an approach that utilises the exquisite sensitivity of our responses to nuances of change, to communicate with us. There is an inevitable emotional dynamic threaded through the work that cannot be obscured.
Working with abstract images created from layers of colour, his paintings deal with the shifting climate of human relating. Here we find both closeness and distance, inclusion and seclusion, vitality and stasis: the subtle shifts of mood that arise in the context of every emotional life. The images invite inquiry rather than occupying a position, welcoming the subjectivity of the viewer as if to elicit a conversation. Colour and form signal to us from their interchange, harmonious yet stirring in their brilliant tones and bold frontiers.
Crossley’s work continues to explore the nature of things through the metaphors of light and spatial relationships capturing a joyful resonance that is best described as an emotional glow.
Introduction to 'Inside Out, New Paintings' - John Crossley and Steven Foy, 1999
Painting is made from inside out. I think of painting as possessed by a structure - but a structure born of colour feeling...(Jules Olitski)
What if there was not abstraction but abstractions? Such a simple question cuts right to the very heart of our understanding of abstract painting. It suggests that the modernist endgame was always already predetermined on there being only one outcome; the process of reduction would eventually bring us round to the last painting. This exhibition proposes an alternative approach not based on systematic exclusion but on provisional associate attitude. Painting 'from the inside out" suggests that, rather than a sign of irreducibility, the blank surface is the beginning, already charged (or "possessed" as Olitski put it). It is not a process of turning inward but a move outward, beyond the confines of the medium.
John Crossley and Steven Foy have put their paintings together to demonstrate shared interests and divergences. Spatial intricacy is a common feature of each set of works but where Crossley interweaves organic shapes, Foy almost literally builds his paintings architecturally. The result is an intriguing dialouge which questions the presumptions that have been made about abstraction in art but more importantly about the possibilities of painting now and in the future.
Distanced both from modernist closure and postmodern pastiche, the works to go on show in this exhibition touch on many contemporary concerns. Complexity is one of them, understood as the opening out, or unfolding, onto new vistas. This activity seems guided less by rational thinking than the operation of chance.
Spatiality (rather than flatness) and an interest in psychological effects of voids and densities can also be found. Altogether, these tendencies almost literally turn the paintings inside out. Painting is no longer within itself but beside itself.
Around The London Galleries, The Times, 1997
Any mixed show, whatever the surroundings, can be a bit of a challenge without the benefit of theme or repeat. In this welcome show, the first Cut Gallery Group Exhibition, each individual piece has to fight in order to work which in turn forces the viewer to look, think and find. John Crossley's deceptive paintings on paper which appear still, fixed and clear in their scale and subject, carry an internal life of their own.
Introduction to Milton Gallery solo exhibition, 1996
It becomes clear that the elements within this series of apparently straightforward paintings on paper act out some kind of role; for they do so again and again. The paintings have a delicate printed graphic precision to them. Blacks are not black, even the muted colour is applied evenly and clearly without volume. Relations between the elements are so still and fixed that the sensation is one of an overview. The overall picturing is somehow diagrammatical; it presents an autonomous topographical situation with its own rules, shifts, changes and strife. This is a slow, careful and limited dance in which 'significant' biomorphic question marks, stop-go pods, chequered areas and shapes like stones wrapped with paper are frozen together in relation to each other like players left by an abandoned board game. The pictures immediately set up a one to one relationship with the viewer and promise a close relationship or understanding [rather like the unconsciously retained layout of a familiar house] rather than a distanced view. The pictures have the scale and quality, perhaps, the kind of play on manners, more usually associated with the novel.
Although it is, of course, pointless to wrestle verbal narrative out from the two dimensional image it is clear that the subject here is the nature of contemporary domestic space. In a time when notions of freedom of unadulterated expression are brought into question John Crossley relishes, paradoxically, the opportunity to turn restriction, familiarity, even claustrophobia to advantage. It has taken time for the imagery to evolve and to be trusted. These coherent, cohesive, united 'purist' graphic images heighten and enhance a sense of the actual rather than the imaginary.