By Liz Mardiks for Offbeat.
One of the New Orleans Museum of Art's most-anticipated recent exhibitions-"Ralston Crawford and Jazz"-opens tonight with a big celebration. Crawford, a prominent American artist of the mid-20th Century, became a faculty member at LSU in 1949, and began making regular trips to New Orleans.
This collection of Crawford's lesser-known art depicts how our city and its music acutely impacted his work. Featuring media from prints to film to photographs, the exhibition is a testament to how Crawford's experiences in New Orleans translated directly into the life of his art.
To launch the opening of this New Orleans-themed exhibition, NOMA has an entire night of New Orleans-themed events planned. At 6 p.m., there will be a panel discussion of Crawford's work in the exhibition. At 7, Chip Flanagan, the Executive Chef at Ralph's on the Park, will present "Art You Can Eat-Louisiana Surf, Turk, & Sparkle: Recipes from the rich bounty of Louisiana waters and wetlands". Finally, at 7:30, Dr. Michael White, will close the celebration with a performance in Stern Auditorium. Throughout the night, there will also be an art-making activity with NOMA staff members and jazz piano from Wayne Daigrepont in the Great Hall.
Ralston Crawford was born in Ontario, Canada, but he never stayed anywhere for long. In the course of his life he lived in Buffalo, Honolulu, Los Angeles and Cincinnati. He traveled Europe extensively, and made frequent visits to the Crescent City. His work never remained stagnant for long, either. When he was in college, he worked a stint as an animator for Walt Disney Studios. During World War II, he was drafted to be in the Weather Division of the Army Air Force, where he created symbols and charts to represent weather patterns. He was the only artist hired by Fortune magazine to abstractly record the testing of an atomic bomb. He made prints, paintings, drawings and films, and took photographs.
Crawford liked to investigate his own work. He would take photographs and then change his perspective to create drawings, prints or paintings from the image. At the NOMA exhibition, viewers will be able to see photographs right next to the prints they inspired. The series depicting New Orleans cemeteries is particularly captivating.
Russell Lord, NOMA's Curator of Photographs, says, "The works [Crawford] created in New Orleans seemingly exploded off the canvas, as though the inherent freedom of jazz inspired him to abandon the earlier rules" Others have noted that the improvisation and syncopation in jazz is clearly mimicked in Crawford's work, depicting a newness and abstraction.
But the 150+ images displayed in the NOMA exhibition aren't just about jazz-New Orleans, as a whole, is the focus. Our architecture, our celebrations and our people all became subject matter for Crawford. Even though he only visited, Crawford was profoundly impacted by this city, enough to make the only place where he settled down. After a bout with cancer, he was buried in New Orleans, per his own request, with a proper Jazz Funeral.
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