Magritte’s Brand of Surrealism, Revived in Tim Crowder’s Uncanny World

The first thing you notice when looking at the work of Tim Crowder is his deft handling of paint. Though Crowder works in a variety of media, it is his jewel-box-like paintings that immediately catch the eye. In their cloudy realism, Crowder’s swathes of textured oil and enamel on panel and board speak to the tradition of American landscape painting, or, in more spare compositions like The Valise (2014), they call to mind something otherworldly, like tarot cards or their Mexican cousin, the Lotería.

This sense of the supernatural pervades Crowder’s work, and he is not shy about exploring concepts of philosophy, albeit with a sense of witty absurdity. The Memphis-based artist’s investigations take many forms, like his various mixed-media interpretations of the briefcase, some of which hang on the wall and some of which function as sculptural pieces, one made of grass and the other frosting. It is these juxtapositions—painted object, sculpted object, size, shape, material—that lead the viewer to question the very nature of the thing depicted. And, like Rene Magritte’s famous “(c’est ne pas une) pipe” from his painting Treachery of Images (1928–29), which makes an appearance in Crowder’s work, he raises questions about the nature of art itself. 

Magritte is of particular significance to Crowder, who in the past has opted to describe his work by using quotes from the artist: “The only thing that engages me is the mystery of the world,” and “I recognize only one motive for the act of painting: the desire to paint an image one would like to look at.” But the artist is only one of many that speak to Crowder’s work. In a recent exhibition at David Lusk Gallery, Crowder included portraits of five of his artistic forebears: Gustave Courbet, Paul Thek, Martin Kippenberger, the philosopher Carl Jung, and, of course, Magritte.  

— Heather Corcoran

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