Roy Crosse: Multimedia Artist, Musician, WriterThursday, April 19th, 2012 Categories: Features, Updates
About nine years ago the Trinidadian artist Roy Crosse, left his studio in Newark, NJ, for Baltimore, Md. Usually when such a shift occurs, bonds, no matter how robust, weaken. Not so with Roy, unexpectedly, our correspondence blossomed into a spirited discourse and a deeper awareness of each other’s make-up, mettle, and artistic idiosyncrasies. The folder on my computer entitled “Roy Crosse” is filled with his writings. There are poems, photos of artworks-in-progress, completed pieces, as well as what Roy calls his “missives.” I respect and delight in Roy’s working process, be it painting, drawing, making videos, constructing an installation, or his music compositions for the Steel Pans.
The Migration Experience – excerpt from notes and conversations:
“Although I had exercised my creative spirit growing up in Port of Spain, Trinidad by making marks on every conceivable surface I could find, it was not until I immigrated to Canada in 1962 that I found support and realized that my drawings and artifacts might have a place in the world. Formally trained (Toronto – I would eventually relocate to the USA,) in painting and sculpture centered on a Euro-Colonial aesthetic, my challenge…was to find a voice that would embrace my formative development in the Caribbean with my new discoveries in America and a growing curiosity about the use of art in the lives of African peoples…”
The “Migration Experience” became critical to Roy’s approach to materials experimenting with collage and assemblage. “… The fact that I was now living and working in a society that was rich enough to support life on its rubbish meant there was lots of material available for… reintroduction into my world of art making… The impact of migration on my work may be seen through layers of time, geography, and social context…The use of abandoned materials (not to be confused with found objects)…is a direct result of my introduction to an abundant ‘throw away culture.”
At the time the Civil Rights movement was “gaining steam” in America and similar upheavals were occurring in Port–of-Spain Trinidad & Tobago. Roy returned to Trinidad. His sense of injustice was honed by what he saw and experienced on the streets of his homeland. Bypassing the colonially administered businesses, Roy and several friends began to organize cottage industries involving local youths (selling snow-cones and food during Carnival season, designing tee-shirts etc.) out of kiosks in Port-of-Spain. These activities caused them to become targets of the police, but it created a sense of dignity among the participants that acknowledged the value of vernacular ownership despite the danger.
Continued political concerns are ever present and evident in the five large installations in Roy Crosse’s War & Peace exhibition:
SPIRIT TEMPLE – A beautiful hand-stitched white gossamer material envelopes the viewer in a meditative space. The spectator can walk through this fragile, yet sensual environment and experience an aesthetic and visual peace. The delicacy of the work breathes life into the labyrinth that we are forced to circumnavigate as we glide our way through the artwork brushing against the gentle fabric of light.
THE PATRIOTS – A “living” room has been constructed complete with the comforts of home, including chairs, a radio, lamps, TV, computer, sconces and photographs neatly hung on the walls depicting images of what some would and others would not consider “patriots.” Words of hate and vitriol – WE DON’T WANT ANY JAPS BACK HERE EVER are juxtaposed alongside photographs of Native Americans, African American slaves and soldiers, Condoleezza Rice and General George Patton – the totality of which forces us to ask ourselves who is the true patriot here? The perversion and irony of the concept and language of patriotism are subdued to the confines of the four walls of our mind.
GARDEN OF PEACE – Vividly colored fabrics wrapped tightly evolve into flowers outlining a walkway leading up to an altar of cloth – wrapped guns with a lit candle precariously placed on top of the tightly woven bandaged instruments of death – reminiscent of the flower placed into the muzzle of guns during the 1960s demonstrations against the Vietnam War. The instruments of war – guns – are wrapped and camouflaged rising out of a bubbling fountain of water like the ashes of Phoenix reborn as a cry for peace.
WAILING WALL – Referencing historical African and West Indian crafts, Roy has twisted and braided material to create a cascading “Wailing Wall,” a site where one grieves for the dead. The names of “fallen soldiers” are written and placed at the feet of the interlaced wall – a wall which is penetrable and not made of stone, suggesting that anguish and mourning flows continuously through the twisted plaits liberating our pain.
VETERANS – Shrouded and swaddled crutches stand erect like soldiers lined up at attention creating a stunning installation marking the tragic injury and loss in combat. War statistics are placed on the ground screaming for us to be mindful. The collateral damage of war is those very Veterans who return and are ignored (often homeless) – cast off by the very society that enlisted them to fight their battles.
Roy is also exhibiting four graphite drawings that complement the mixed media installations.
Besides being an artist, Roy is a motorcycling-riding/ writer/musician/composer/cook and carpenter. Anyplace he lives and works, you feel his presence both individually and in the community, establishing artist groups and Alternative Art spaces dating back to his early days in Toronto with Sapodilla Gallery, and continuing with today’s varied and penetrating exhibitions that he curates at WESTNORTH Studio in Baltimore, Md. where he and his wife Anelda reside.
Roy Crosse, in his own “kinda cool way” is like the new kid in town that he wrote about in “COOL.” Here is an excerpt, which reveals Roy as an artist with a perceptive, sharp-witted, and piercing observation of humanity:
“There’s a new kid in town, and he’s cool, but it’s a new cool, it’s a street cool. It’s not to be mistaken for a jive cool or a Miles Davis cool, a flower child reefer smoking Marvin Gaye“what’s going on” kind of cool. Frank Sinatra and the Dorsey brothers wouldn’t know it, Ella would pass it by, but it’s cool. It’s not a Sarah Vaughn kind of cool, no not Ray Charles uumm ah, baby whad-ah-say cool, but I am telling you it’s cool. Not Maya Angelou…“give me a cool drink of water fore I die”… kind-a cool. Or Cannonball Adderly. Picasso’s blue period, Elvis “Love Me Tender,” Take Five. You can make your own picks, but it ain’t that kind of cool. It’s not a summer afternoon driving the convertible, hair flying in the wind if you got that kind of hair, it’s not the Biker on a customized chrome chopper, ape handle bars rolling down the boulevard, or the dapper dude with smooth clothes and a funked up hat and sun glasses. Now, sunglasses… that used to be cool…”
Roy’s vast range of projects, are an indication of the scope of his intellectual curiosity and accomplishments.
Grace Graupe Pillard is a painter, photographer and multimedia artist living in NJ. Her work is in many private collections and museums, including the Newark Museum, the New Jersey State Museum, and many others. She was lately the director of the esteemed, Abbey Memorial Workshop at the National Academy in New York.