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ART REVIEWS : Freeze-Frame Narratives From Surfer Russell Crotty

More than 40,000 tiny surfers shoot across the surfaces of Russell Crotty’s drawings. Arranged in grids whose sections often measure a square inch or less, these miniature figures initially register the artist’s patience and obsessiveness. They evoke a trance-like state of Zen emptiness in which the seemingly endless repetition of a simple task transcends ordinary mindlessness and opens onto the mesmerizing absorption in one’s surroundings.

Crotty’s drawings offer more than mere evidence of this zoned-out communion with the elements that is central surf culture. His swiftly rendered gestures also propose that memory prevents recurring events from ever being experienced as exact repetitions of earlier occurrences.

Three of Crotty’s strangely sophisticated scrawlings in his exhibition at Bess Cutler Gallery are dated 1974-91. They both affirm and deny the passage of time. The 35-year-old surfer made these large scale images by projecting thumbnail sketches he drew in a diary/notebook when he was 18.

From across the gallery, the new versions transform the trash, confident lines of Crotty’s teen-age sketches into bold, graceful and mature movements. These sweeping gestures, however, are deceptive. Up close, they are not unified strokes, but mere outlines that have been laboriously filled in with a ball-point pen. Their apparently powerful drama disintegrates into pathetic scratching.

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Crotty’s new works both exaggerate the visual energy of his old sketches and fall short of their integrity. They suggest that originative gestures are inimitable and irrecoverable. Like his gridded drawings which relentlessly focus on the same moment of a frozen narrative, his revisions of his personal history demonstrate that the present’s power lies in the distance that separates it from the past.

Bess Cutler Gallery, 903 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, (213) 394-6673, through Oct. 10. Closed Mondays.


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