This is part of a series of northforker magazine looks into the workspaces that help shape some of the artistic work being done here. The series was written and photographed for our ‘Creativity Issue,’ now on newsstands.
If you’re going to paint from memories, it helps to have good ones.
Artist Louise Crandell works from a lifetime of images in her head, then morphs them into moody oil and wax abstracts and ethereal landscapes of indeterminate time and place. Hailing from Montana near the Canadian border, Crandell now divides her time between her mid-1800s house in East Marion and her New York studio in Tribeca. But it’s the in between — from Moore College of Art in Philadelphia and grad school in Berkeley, Calif., to stints in New Zealand, Boston, Vancouver, Michigan, Syracuse and beyond — that layers on richness. A lifetime of memories might fade over time, but they never fully vanish.
Crandell has been spending time on the North Fork for 23 years, and while area views and vistas have inspired many an artist to take to plein air painting, don’t expect to see her outside with a paintbrush any time soon. “I don’t go out and paint landscapes,” she said. “Well, I do paint landscapes — they’re just from my mind.”
Fittingly, her first show in New Zealand was called “Recollections of Specific Places” and a recent one was called “The Weight of Memory.” She always paints inside her East Marion house “via light bulb and natural light,” she said, but has been known to incorporate an impromptu shadow into a design. “Sometimes the sun will create a new shape on the canvas and I’ll think, ‘Hmmm, that’s pretty good!’ ”
Crandell is currently fixing up the 1860s barn in her backyard as a second studio, adding insulation so she can work year-round. The doors will open to her carefully tended garden, adding inspiring yet abstract images to her memory banks.
Regarding technique, her “cold wax method” mixes oil paints with wax, creating a unique translucent depth. She is influenced by abstract color field artist Mark Rothko, who, in an odd twist, is buried 3,000 feet from her East Marion backyard and is soon to be the subject of a movie starring Russell Crowe. Artists Gerhard Richter and Brice Marden also inspire.
While Crandell’s works are anchored in memory, many are tied into current events, in mood, energy or color. The series “Infrared,” created when the U.S. invaded Iraq, references war and religion with exploding reds and kinetic energy.
More recently, she drew from the pandemic to create during her first year-long North Fork stay. Her show “falling floating flying,” for Greenport gallery VSOP Projects, depicted gauzy colored shapes precariously perched.
“It was all about being off balance; that sort of precarious feeling you get when you’re unsure about everything,” she said. “We were on the precipice.”