Well known for his Precisionist and geometrically abstract style, Crawford was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1906. He moved with his family at the age of 10 to Buffalo, N.Y., and spent time sailing with his father on the Great Lakes. Following his high school graduation, Crawford worked on cargo ships for six months, traveling to the Caribbean and the Pacific. In 1927, Crawford began his artistic education at Otis Art Institute, working at the Walt Disney Studio as an animator for a side job. He returned to the East Coast to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and at the Barnes Foundation. It was during his later round of studies that he was influenced in his work by the art of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. In 1934, along with being a member of the Independents, a collective of modernist painters, Crawford had his first one-man art show at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Crawford went through multiple artistic phases in his life, the most notable being his Precisionist and geometrically abstract phases. His Precisionist work focused on realistic, sharp renderings of industrial areas, such as factories, bridges, and shipyards, all of which incorporated straight edges and clear borders between separate elements. Crawford’s early work in this vein placed him among other Precisionist artists such as Charles Sheeler, whose noteworthy accomplishments include being one of the founders of American modernism and one of the master photographers of the 20th century. The use of straight lines in the majority of Crawford’s work evolved into his geometrically abstract period, in which he would utilize the shape as the focus of his paintings, taking events such as bullfighting in Spain or spaces such as cemeteries in New Orleans and re-forming them into how he envisioned them in a geometric spectrum.
One of the highlights of Crawford’s career was an assignment from Fortune Magazine. He traveled to the Bikini Atoll in 1946 to record a portion of the events during Operation Crossroads, a series of nuclear weapons tests that provided information on atmospheric and underwater detonations of atomic bombs. The test was incredibly high-profile due to the fact that it was the first detonation of any nuclear device since the bombing of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. Additionally, Crawford worked with photography and experimented with film and printmaking. Crawford died on April 17, 1978, in Houston, Tex., succumbing to cancer.
The Georgia Museum of Art’s permanent collection includes Crawford’s depiction of the blast generated by the atmospheric bomb, nicknamed Able, from Operation Crossroads. For anyone interested in the artistic aspects of such an almost literally “volatile” period in American history, GMOA invites you to come in and experience the reverberations of what Crawford witnessed years ago.