Crawford retrospective show opens Friday at Mahon Hall

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Long-time islander and local arts champion Ronald T. Crawford takes the spotlight this season as anchor of the Salt Spring Arts Council’s 14th Annual Spring Art Show — formerly the Easter Art Show — opening this Friday, April 16 at Mahon Hall. 

The show Cave Chanting: A Ronald T. Crawford Retrospective is curated by Rosalie Matchett and will feature some of the artist’s early work dating back 40 years, artworks that are now in private collection and a good selection of Crawford’s most recent ongoing project, Chasing Shadows.

The arts council observes Crawford has been a strong instigator for the visual arts on Salt Spring. He is a past chair of the organization, one of the original organizers for Art Night, and the founding director of the Salt Spring National Art Prize.

Crawford’s paintings and stone sculptures can meanwhile be found in private and public collections. Well-known works include the large wall piece Once Upon a Time at the entrance to the Salt Spring Library, and the Standing Stone Circle, commonly known as The Babas, a landmark installation at the Stonehouse B&B on Fulford-Ganges Road.

Visual artist Matchett said when she took on the role of curator for the retrospective, she was keen to create a catalogue for the show. 

“This way I could really get to know Ron’s work and include pieces that were no longer on the island. I chose the piece Cave Chanting as the title because it is a mid-career painting that touches on many of the themes in Ron’s work: his use of pattern to create structure, his suggestion of expanded space and geological forms and the allusion to a mythic narrative that occurs in many of his pieces.”

Crawford was heavily influenced by abstract expressionism in his early years, but after seeing an exhibition of the ancient Book of Kells he began to consider the power of pattern, and to explore their expression in traditional cultures as well as their occurrence in nature.

“I am always thinking what kind of forces went together to make that happen,” Crawford said of the natural phenomena. “Then I think, ‘what is the quality there that is attracting me to it and how can I replicate that in a painting?’”

His most recent work merges the boundaries between sculpture and painting in three-dimensional wall pieces that begin with creating organic-feeling plaster formations over the base layer. In the final stages of painting, colour is neutralized to emphasize the sculptural elements, but as Matchett points out, the more the viewer looks, the more under-layers of colours emerge and the paintings’ rich visual palette becomes evident. 

A limited number of catalogues will be for sale at the show. Both the show and the catalogue are sponsored by Steffich Fine Art.

The retrospective runs from April 16 to May 2, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at Mahon Hall, following all provincial health orders, including mandatory masks. The arts council is also offering a diverse selection of free artist talks, kids workshops and public programs starting next week. 

Full details and registration links can be found at https://ssartscouncil.com/eas2021/.

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