Review: Richard Crawford, ‘Compositions in Color’ at Everybody’s Coffee

It is always intriguing to see an artist’s first public exhibition, particularly if it’s a solo show. Richard Crawford’s debut exhibition, Compositions in Color, displaying 27 of his works at Everybody’s Coffee in Uptown doesn’t disappoint, in fact, it is quite exceptional.

Crawford was born and raised in Chicago where he worked for years as a woodworker, making cue sticks for various billiard clubs. He learned to work with exotic woods, ebony and ivory inlays, and paint lacquers. But after years of working in this field, he was no longer able to deal with the fumes that he had to inhale and decided to retire and devote himself full time to his art. Although self-taught, Crawford vigorously studied various masters and cites Gustav Klimt, Vincent Van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, Gerhard Richter, and Jackson Pollock as sources of his inspiration.

"Blue/Silver" by Richard Crawford. Acrylic on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.
“Blue/Silver” by Richard Crawford. Acrylic on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

As an abstract expressionist, Crawford examines an idiosyncratic reality, creating works full of imaginative and visual power. Although at first glance, there is a spontaneity or the impression of spontaneity in his works, on closer look, most of his paintings involve careful planning. Like other abstract expressionists, Crawford uses abstraction to convey strong emotional and expressive content, attacking his canvases with vigorous gestural expressionism.

There is also an impressive range in his work. In some of his paintings (such as Large Red  and Large Purple ), there is a frenetic energy with his bold use of colors and lines. In other paintings (such as Black and Purple Triptych and Silver and Gold Triptych), the colors are muted and the lines are subtle while still conveying motion and energy.

“Storm” by Richard Crawford. Acrylic on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Crawford expresses numerous moods on canvas – there is a brooding, sometimes a foreboding quality while there is also a sense of renewal and hope. There is also a certain radiance that emanates from his paintings that is reminiscent of peacock feathers, sunlight on the ocean, or a ray of light breaking through a cloud-laden sky.

“Richard Crawford works with a lot of different techniques,” says Karl Sullivan, general manager of Everybody’s Coffee. “He is always experimenting, which is amazing for a self-taught artist. He creates energetic multi-color spatter/pour paintings laced with gold leaf that seems to move.”

Jane Hertenstein, co-curator at Everybody’s Coffee added, “Crawford continually studies other artists, studies their techniques, and in the end, he creates his own unique work.”

Compositions in Color  demonstrates how Crawford’s lack of professional art training has given him the freedom to create from his heart instead of trying to find a balance between educational training and personal expression.

Everybody’s Coffee opened three years ago, and besides hosting a café and art gallery, it also has a black box theater space that is used to stage theater productions and also screen films. Karl Sullivan and Jane Hertenstein are passionate about displaying art and embracing diversity in the arts community.

Other recent art exhibitions at Everybody’s Coffee have included: Summer Naiveté  that presented works by adults with autism; an exhibition of Robin Rios’ paintings; and the photography of Josiah Jindrich.

Compositions in Color  will run from February 3 through February 28, 2017. Everybody’s Coffee is located at 935 W. Wilson. Hours: Monday through Friday – 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday – 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday – 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Thomas Wawzenek
Thomas Wawzenek