The Sails No. 5, 1956

Miami Beach 2014
Menconi + Schoelkopf
Oil on canvas
Ralston Crawford The Sails No. 5, 1956 Oil on canvas In 1956, Crawford was making lithographs at full tilt, and his paintings were showing the graphic influence. Since the 1930s, Crawford had been committed to crisp boundaries for his flattened shapes, but the canvases of the mid-50s reflect a new confidence in perfectly straight lines. Sails No. 5 may be the artist’s most abstract and geometric work. Though perhaps with aid of the title the broad triangular forms may be deciphered as sails of a ship, the piece eschews local color or any readily identifiable form. In his earlier work, Crawford narrowly avoided the meeting of a number of shapes at a single point. The rare occasions when such an intersection did occur, it was limited to a single instance on a canvas, as a conspicuous focal point, usually on a horizon line. Having eliminated that horizon completely, Crawford creates in Sails a delicately balanced web of these focal points, playing off one another in a nebulous space, not unlike boats on an ocean.  The careful relationship of maroon and navy suggests that the artist required a richer palette to hold together the icy composition. With the subject matter almost entirely submerged beneath this web of lines and planes, Crawford reaches an apogee with Sails.The work has an almost decorative minimalism at a glance, but rewards deeper consideration with its subtle harmonies and intricate geometries, ultimately yielding a literal view of the sea that Crawford so identified with in his art.