“I don’t preconceive things, they’re generally done, necessitated, in the painting, by the painting process, but not the process that’s intrinsic to what goes on in the rectangle, but what the painted object does in extrinsic way, or social discussion,” Sean Crossley told us when we visited his studio in Brussels as we were looking at highly diversified suite of paintings comprising his latest solo show Rénovation de la Bourse (Renovation of the Stock Exchange). On view until last Sunday at WIELS Contemporary art center in Brussels, the show is at its core presenting different looks of the actual construction site at the stock exchange metro station using effectively the hyper localized subject to hone on rejuvenation, refitting, exchange systems, and commerce.
And this is where the Australian-born artist’s ideas and conceptualizations get difficult to pin down cause the general idea of the work he is currently developing is essentially aiming to fuse corporeal systems with infrastructure. Mixing something very tactile and natural while taking in the fact that our reality is our destined nature, with the social aspects of our being, the work becomes very abstract regardless of its representational quality. And with a goal for it to touch the world, to enter the social sphere, but being suspicious of representation, Crossley reaches for its destined opposition, the abstraction. “The work is about reciprocity, about how realism and abstraction compose each other,” he dissects the heady space of capturing the elusive cognitive reflex of what it is to look outwards AND make a painting. So whether it’s gestural figurative or even hyperrealist trompe l’oeil elements, the pieces are tightly related, oftentimes literally reflecting into each other. “What I learned coming out of this show is that the subject of the painting is found in the painting,” Crossley explains the importance of such a varied approach to creating work. “That teaches you a lot about what a painting can be and how painting can manifest itself, and how painting is (the act of) thinking in itself.”
From hyperrealistic, 1:1 scale trompe l’oeil blue and yellow protective panels emblematic of modern-day Brussels, to the rare example of an expressive, almost cubist-looking piece, the exhibition reveals the unusual process of conceptualizing his subject matter. “For me, this (my studio) is a laboratory, and the works are the means to experimentation but the exhibition is an occasion for an experiment,” Crossley explained why he doesn’t experience his process as something that is meant to have a finishing phase or a result. Starting with a broad idea and working across many concepts simultaneously, continuously allowing the painting to lead the way, these proposals are eventually narrowed towards what the show really is about. “I always fuck em up anyways, but I think that the paintings are better in the end when that assertiveness and confidence plays against my habit of self sabotage,” he told us about how his process continues from one piece to the other, from one show to the other.
The work that is being presented is ultimately a series of ideas, triggers, and connectors, done through an idiosyncratic stylistic diversity that honors both the traditional painterly education, but also, the broad conceptual outlook on what painting could be. The improvisational nature of the practice extends all the way to each individual sub-series, so the highly technical replicas of the construction barriers are painted using everything from a highly calculated approach to one-go flash-type sessions. These switches allow Crossley to fully immerse in a certain context or the way of painting, and jump onto another one as soon as he feels a certain direction is getting the upper hand. The result of such deviant process is a series of work which are seemingly non related and freestanding, yet individually accomplished and complete. And in reality, they are revolving around exactly the same ideas and notions, approaching different aspects from a different angle and employing different ways of capturing, portraying, depicting, or symbolizing them. —Sasha Bogojev