Art: Interview with Rod Crossman

(system) #1

By Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson

The latest issue of Spectrum, which is already in the hands of subscribers, features Rod Crossmans’ abstract painting, “First Man,” on the cover. Born in South Dakota and raised in Upstate New York, Crossman now lives in Indiana, where he makes a living creating paintings and as a professor and Artist in Residence at Indiana Wesleyan University. Crossman’s paintings have been published on the covers and in the pages of the best sporting magazines, books, and journals. His work has been exhibited and collected worldwide, including at the Smithsonian, Chicago Art Institute, Woodson Art Museum, Ward Museum, High Museum and some of the most elite galleries. In addition, he has designed trout, turkey, upland and duck stamps for several states. His artwork ranges from landscape and nature artwork to abstract paintings, such as the one that appears on Spectrum’s cover. According to Crossman, “First Man” is a painting that “explores the idea of polar opposites in color, value, and materials and the way they complete each other.”

Recently, I interviewed Rod via email. Here's our conversation on art and the sublime:

Would you mind sharing a bit about your background and how you came to be an artist? Has art been a lifelong passion for you?

I have always been drawn to those things that surprise me. My mother was able to help nurture a deep appreciation for the beautiful… a sunset, flower, a good story…. Our home contained very little “art.” Our family was economically very poor, but rich in love. I do think my curiosity and deep appreciation for beauty was formed in the tension of this crucible.

Your body of work covers a wide range of styles—realist landscapes, sporting art, etchings, abstract paintings, American Indian subjects, figures, and even film. How is it that you came to embrace so many diverse styles of expression?

Exploring such a diverse range of subjects and style creates another type of tension or conflict. The possibility of a shallow reasoning or research exists. Artists also seem to be pushed into one area or style because of marketing pressures that come from publishers, galleries and collectors. It happens in every kind of art… music, theater, writing, etc…. My question is why? Why does it have to be that way?

What are your influences, artistic and otherwise?

As far as work goes, my major influence is the design I see in creation. Lately I’ve been inspired by the work of Industrial Designer Ross Lovegrove, photographer Gregory Colbert, and Dutch artist Theo Jansen. I’m also researching the idea of sustainable growth. Being a responsible citizen and steward of our natural resources has become a more important issue in my life.

What kind of physical space do you paint in—do you create your nature paintings on location or from memory? What is your creative process like?

I work in a large converted Quaker Church that was abandoned a century ago. Originally it was the first Quaker Meeting House in this part of Indiana during the early 1800s. It overlooks a small stream and is a constant source of inspiration. I paint from life, memory, and a blend of both. I like to experiment with ways of applying paint. Lately I’ve been experimenting with a blend of digital and traditional painting on the same platform.

You say that you’re “interested in moments of ‘Wonder’ and ‘Awe’—the magical ‘state of being’ that leaves us vulnerable to the idea there is something more important in universe than ourselves.” Is this sense of wonder one of the themes you explore in your art? Do you have a sense of what that “something more important” might be?

I agree with the author David James Duncan. He suggests that to live without a sense of awe and wonder might not be a “sin” in the spiritual sense but that it surely is one artistically. I also think wonder and awe helps keep us from becoming too infatuated with our own self worth or being deceived into believing we are in control of our world. The antithesis of pride is a humble spirit. This humble spirit makes it possible to love others more than we love ourselves. I believe in God the Creator who has known and loved us from the very beginning of time. In Genesis Chapter two, it says he created all sorts of trees for the Garden and made them “ pleasing to the eye.” That implies he created them for our pleasure—a sublime thought: to be loved by the one who created all things is a thought too deep for words. This love comes with a call to love others more than we love ourselves. This love does not give us the right to live without “seeing.” Understanding that love allows us to “see” the “Holy” in everything, from a tiny water drop to the ocean.

Of your painting, “Revelation” that that hangs overhead in the lobby of a building on the Indiana Wesleyan University campus, you said, “We are both a physical and spiritual being, but often our spiritual eyes are shut, making it impossible to see the invisible yet eternal things around us.” Do you consider yourself to be a Christian artist? If so, what does that term mean to you?

The whole idea of “Christian artist” is kind of a gnarly one for me. Am I a “Christian artist” or an “artist” who happens to be a Christian? Does my faith identify me or my calling? We seem to need labels—it helps us feel like we belong to the club. When we paste that label somewhere visible, it’s a free pass to the club meeting. I tend to think that’s a dangerous way to figure out where or who we belong to. Should I put a cross behind my signature to let people know I’m a Christian? That kind of action can suggest I’m not ashamed, or it can be a visual testimony, but for me it can be an easy form of evangelism. I prefer a personal evangelism that is born out of earning a right to be heard. The best way to do that is by loving one another.

Bonnie Dwyer’s editorial in the current issue references something you pondered in your blog: “Will God hold us responsible for the questions we don’t ask?” This would seem to point toward our moral responsibilities as human beings. What is art’s role in this?

Art can bring understanding and meaning to those things that there are no words for. It’s one of the reasons human beings have always needed it. When I stand in front of Michelangelo’s Pieta, it’s like being able to stand at the very edge of the universe and see thousands of galaxies. Scripture says “ the heavens declare his glory.” Good art can do that too. It can also be good worship and good stewardship. I think it can bring pleasure to God. It’s perhaps visual evidence of our love. Art can encourage and enhance worship, thoughtfulness, and it can usher in revelation and encourage social change through changed hearts.

Do you believe art has an impact in today’s society, which has been described as fragmented and lacking coherence? How do you feel about the idea that art can or ought to bring about social change?

I want to feel the pleasure of God. One of my favorite verses is 11 Chronicles 16: 9: “The eyes of God roam throughout the earth, looking to strengthen the one who is devoted to him.” I keep throwing my art out there, making it the best I can, trusting God will see it and know how much I love. Then His strengthening will allow me to love the world in a way that makes it a little better place to live.

Both of your sons are serving in the military—one of them in Iraq. How are they doing?

Both of my boys are in the Army. Both have been a part of the current war. My oldest son was there in the beginning and my youngest is there now. War is always tough on the families but tougher still on the soldiers. I pray every day for our young men and women in uniform. My boys are doing ok but need your prayers. Thanks for asking.

Visit Rod Crossman's website.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at