Tex Crawford’s workon display at the Athens-Clarke County Library’s Quiet Gallery: On Loan From the Universe: The Maverick Art of Tex Crawford at The Quiet Gallery, Athens-Clarke County Library, Feb. 6 – March 24th, 2019.
“Everything in here had a life before…I digress in a circle,” says Tex Crawford.
It’s true. It takes a while to realize it, but that’s exactly what he does.
It feels a bit random at first, a bit scattered. Entertaining, emotion-provoking, certainly. But it doesn’t immediately fall together mentally. Like fractal geometry, the food chain or the human circulatory system, if viewed in parts it’s still transcendently impressive and beautiful but it doesn’t “click,” doesn’t make complete sense…until viewed as a whole.
That describes Tex Crawford’s art and the way a conversation with him flows. Tangential thoughts that wrap back to the point and make you sit up in bed at 3 AM and say, “Ooh, now I get it.”
It’s not easy to describe, but the emotion is immediately accessible. Tex is a largely happy philosopher of everyday modern life, and of life in previous eras, possibly eras which have even been wiped from the slate of human existence. Ask Tex about Atlantis sometime. I dare you. It will blow your mind on one level and then it will crop back up into your psyche and, at some predetermined time set by powers we can’t see but we can all feel, you’ll be jolted awake and then you’ll “get it” on the mystical level.
Tex is a collector of EVERYTHING, “bordering on a hoarder.” He uses almost exclusively recycled material. “My wife keeps this impulse in check. I don’t want to quite get to ‘Sanford and Son’ territory.”
Looking at his collection you’ll notice some repeating ideas, motifs, images, like the octopus. “But I don’t limit it to the octopus. Sometimes he’s a nano-pus. Sometimes a Decapus.” The eye embedded in the hand is another one. “A lot of eyes. The eyes are everywhere.”
As a former studio engineer and musician, Tex has a number of good, very Athenian, stories. He rattled off some of the musical acts he once worked with, and many of them were musicians you’ve probably heard of. One stood out. Tex worked with the legendary Ben Vereen a few years ago. “Great human being. He came in with a sack lunch and we went to work. But what I remember most was something he said about his recent experience in a French art gallery. He said, ‘I went in and enjoyed the classical work of the Masters, but it needed a room with mirrors of different sizes so that we could all see our unique selves.’”
Tex’s art is more about seeing our unique selves than classical painting. His use of symbolism is difficult not to notice. Much of the imagery evokes specific emotions (fear, tragedy, and paranoia, but also fun, frivolity, playfulness and positiveness), but Tex is fully aware that different people interpret art in different ways. It’s all filtered through the lens of the psyche of the viewer, a truth at which some artists balk, but not Tex. In fact, he celebrates it. “I want people to interact with the art. I want them to touch it.”
For the record, the Athens-Clarke County Library would prefer that you not touch his art while it is hanging in their tranquil Quiet Gallery, but if you’d like to touch, rub, hug, or even lick his art, contact Tex on his Instagram feed. He’ll tell you where you can go to touch his art, in whatever manner seems right to you.
We started our conversation out with both of us noting that the E-Prime, the “I,” is overused in modern conversation. Much like his work, the full significance of this snippet of conversation didn’t hit me until hours later. Through the course of the conversation, Tex laid out an ancient artistic philosophy, the classical definition of art, the Platonic ideal (Read Plato’s Dialogue Ion sometime).
“It doesn’t come from me. You’ve got to rid yourself of the ego. The ego is there. You can’t get rid of it completely, but it doesn’t help the artistic process, or even the life process. I tell my ego, ‘I know you’ve got to come along for the ride, but you can’t touch the gas peddle.’” Brilliant but simple, true but not immediately realized, and tied in a neat, little bow with an all-American automotive metaphor. The kind of memorable saying you’d expect from a jovial recycling artist with a multi-hued Santa Claus beard named Tex.
Energy is another recurring theme in Tex, the man, and Tex, the artist. Energy is everywhere in and around Tex Crawford. He’s an energetic guy. His body reflects his emotional state, jumping, gesticulating, scanning the landscape with his ever-alert eyes. His art is infused with energy. He understands the way energy works between humans, between planets, between a painted octopus and the sheet metal on which he’s about to be mounted. He wants viewers to interact with his work…which is good because it calls to you to play with it. And, as an art teacher, he encourages his students to harness their energy and focus it into their work. Tex even theorizes about one of the core notions of physics and humanity.
“I’ve embraced people before, and then we’ve both conceived the same idea at around the same time. When it’s with another artist, sometimes we make similar work. I love it when this happens. It proves the connection with the universe, with the real creators of the work. Not me. It’s them. I give them all the credit.”
Almost all of Tex’s work is made of recycled material. “Everything in here had a life before.” Tex has given old automotive parts, metallic fencing, rusted pieces of textile mills, and even a half of an old Samsonite suitcase a new life in their retirement. “The part from the textile mill. People worked in there for 75, maybe 100 years.” They thought their “stuff” was past its prime. And it was…until it met Tex Crawford.
If any old faucet handles, rusted washers, circuit boards from old computers, or skateboards want to join Tex’s recycling revolution, they should find their way out to his studio in Hull. Until these retired pieces of ancient contraptions begin knocking on his door, Tex will continue to scour the countryside for new/old items to include in his next poetic, symbolic, playful menageries. “Looking for all of this material gives me a chance to have conversations with people I’d otherwise never talk to. Art opens up these possibilities.”
Like other aspects of Tex’s work, his use of primarily recycled material is a concept which functions on two levels: micro and macro. On a micro level, it’s cheaper and common-sensical to reuse things, to re-purpose items for new tasks. It’s also a core principal of any artist to see the world, as a whole or in part, in a new way, to tilt your head, squint your eyes and give something you’ve seen a hundred times a new look. On a macro level, in a world overflowing with single-use “stuff,” the idea of recycling needs to be expanded beyond aluminum and cardboard if we are to survive. Instead of polluting our oceans to the point that we’re on the verge of creating entire new islands made entirely out of garbage, we need to find another way to live. As of now, we only have the one planet.
Like so many intellectually-curious artists before him, Tex makes connections between seemingly disparate fields of study: geography and happiness, tragedy and inspiration, literature and history, empathy and economics. “We’re all living our own Odyssey,” he says. He followed that line with a few specific Homeric reference points.
Big emotions can leave their scars on our souls, but they can also have positive effects. “It took a tragedy to change my pattern. My imagination broke wide open.”
Connected to, circling around, fear is the idea of positivity. “Negativity, like happiness, is a choice. If you feed negativity it will grow. But all it takes to turn a negative thought stream around is one positive thought.” Check out one of Tex Crawford’s shiny, bouncy, metallic Octopi and tell me it doesn’t make you happy.
After leaving the more monetarily-rewarding, but less emotionally-fulfilling corporate world, life opened up for Tex. “I was there. I was a Senior Project Manager. I made six figures. All that. But I was afraid not to be there.” He’s not afraid any longer. “I learned to navigate toward my fear. I remember, after leaving the security of the corporate world and entering this new one, my dad asked me, ‘How do you live this way?’ He didn’t get it for a while. It wasn’t familiar to him. But, on his deathbed, he said to me, ‘You had it right the whole time.’” The truly important things in life are harder to notice in the middle of life, but they’re crystal clear at the beginning and at the end.
This is America, so let’s end with a pop culture reference. “Do you remember the third Indiana Jones movie, when he finally gets to the Holy Grail, the last test he has to pass is to walk through a wall of fire? He’s scared, but once he walks through it, the wall of fire disappears. It was fake. It was all self-doubt. Once he confronted it head on, it completely disappeared.