Russell Crotty: Bordering the Habitable Zone


Internationally recognized for his innovative drawing practice, Russell Crotty presents a new body of work that combines his fascination with space exploration and concerns about environmental degradation from the viewpoint of an accomplished amateur astronomer, passionate surfer and native Californian.


The central motif of this exhibition is imagined planetary landers—representing the thrill and promise of exploration as well as the perils our world faces. Informed by his own observational experience and that of scientists who surmise worlds that might exist beyond our own, his robotic explorers navigate hostile, submarine-like environments awash in toxic Kool-Aid-colored atmospheres. But their whimsical, futuristic architecture also recalls the optimism of mid-century California design, the Googie architecture of John Lautner, Oscar Niemeyer and Eero Saarinen, and Hanna Barbera’s influential animation, The Jetsons.


Like the fastidiously inked globes for which he became famous, Crotty’s new work is equally object and drawing. Meticulous depictions of rockets, celestial bodies, smoke stacks and planetary landscapes are collaged to build the structure of the rovers, which are then embedded in bio-resin—a technique similar to that used in finishing surfboards. Despite this reference to “finish fetish,” he incorporates enough chance in these works to suggest the unintended consequences of humanity’s (mis)use of our planet and the unknowable results of exploration.


Russell Crotty (b. 1956) was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area. He lived and worked between Southern and Northern California for many years and now resides in the Ojai Valley. He received his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and his MFA from the University of California, Irvine. His work has been exhibited extensively internationally and collected by The Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, SFMoMA, the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and many others. A two-year residency in 2016/2017 at Lick’s Mount Hamilton Observatory, a research facility managed by the University of California Santa Cruz, culminated in a solo exhibition at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art entitled “Looking Back in Time: Russell Crotty and Lick Observatory.”

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