Professor Creates, Displays Meaningful Art in Three Exhibits

After displaying work in both a national juried art show and a solo exhibit at Lexington’s Keirnan Gallery titled “Poetics” this summer, Southern Virginia University Professor Barbara Crawford currently has a series of drawings, “New Visions of the Land and Sky,” on display at the Nelson Gallery in Lexington, Va.

During July and August, Crawford exhibited her work in the national juried show “Adaptations,” sponsored by the SCA Contemporary Art Gallery in Albuquerque, N.M. “Adaptations” used many forms of art, from mixed media to sculpture, to address the subject of the effects of cancer on both its victims and their loved ones.

Crawford — whose husband has been living with various types of cancer for 20 years — exhibited two works, both collage boxes, a form of art Crawford investigated extensively as a graduate student. She began working more frequently with collage boxes after she was diagnosed with adult onset asthma four years ago and her doctor suggested she stop oil painting.

“I’d been an oil painter for my whole life,” she said. “So I went back to an old interest of mine from graduate school and that was collage boxes, in the spirit of the artist Joseph Cornell. And these collage boxes … are part painting, part found object, part things I’ve made.”

She created the pieces for the show several years ago. Though the pieces were not originally intended for “Adaptations,” she said that pieces like her collage box “Inconsistent Moon” spoke to her in a different way when she reconsidered them in light of the show’s purpose.

“All of a sudden I realized that it could be about what my husband is going through,” Crawford said. “The house is stable, [and] these blocks are unstable. [Just as] at one point your life seems stable, [and] at another point it’s not.”

Thirteen artists from across the United States contributed to the show, each with their own motivations and inspirations.

“Art for me is this way of coping,” Crawford said. “You know we all find different ways. Not only to cope but … to express [our feelings] in a way that hopefully someone will respond to. The show in Albuquerque has had great reviews, and people have really responded to what we’re doing.”

Crawford said that when she creates art, she leaves room for the viewer’s interpretation and response. Sometimes, she “[comes] to an understanding” of a piece only after it has been finished.

Crawford became involved with the show “Poetics,” when the owner of the local Keirnan Gallery reached out to her. The gallery, which is split into two spaces, reserved one of the rooms for Crawford’s solo exhibit. When working on pieces for the show, Crawford delved into the workings of time and memory, two concepts she’s “very interested in.” The pieces featured were paintings of skies with architectural inserts that relate to time or memory.

“I’m always painting skies,” she said.

The same holds true for her work currently on display in Lexington at the Nelson Gallery. The show, “New Visions of the Land and Sky,” features works by Crawford as well as those of artists John Winfrey and Bill White. Her works are paintings of skies and cloudscapes, many of which were completed at artist residencies, including one in Venice, Italy.

“This Italian art influence [is always] there,” Crawford said. “[I] can’t get away from that.”

In addition to leading the university’s annual Travel Study trip to Italy in May, Crawford teamed up with Bill White, retired chair of the Hollins University art department, to co-sponsor a 10-day plein-air workshop in Spello, Italy. The workshop included daytrips to museums and instruction regarding painting the Italian landscape. Crawford’s international art experiences also extend to France, where she worked with American artist Cy Twombly to create a ceiling mural for the Louvre.

Whatever Crawford is working on, she believes that the “art world should always have a little mystery to it.” She tries to make an aspect of mystery apparent in her pieces, but not to the extent that they are difficult to relate to or “so obscure that you can’t understand it.” Crawford’s work may be seen in “New Visions of the Land and Sky” at the Nelson Gallery through the end of September.