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Transmogrifications: A Conversation with Bryan Crockett

by Brooke Kamin Rapaport

Ignis Fatuus, 1997. Latex balloons, epoxy resin, wire, and light bulbs, 144 x 192 x 120 in. View of installation at the 1997 Whitney Biennial. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, NY.

Bryan Crockett was born in Santa Barbara, California, in 1970 and grew up in a home attached to the family business; his father was the local mortician. He dropped out of high school in his junior year to attend Santa Barbara City College and graduated with a BA from Cooper Union in New York City in 1992 and an MFA from Yale University in 1994. Today, he lives and works in Brooklyn. His 400-square-foot studio is crammed from ground to gable: drawings are pinned to the wall, parts of sculptures rest on shelving that stretches from floor to ceiling. A work in progress sits on a lathe. In this diminutive environment, Crockett makes concrete in three dimensions a world that swirls in his mind.

Gluttony, 2002. Cultured marble. From Seven Deadly Sins. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, NY.

Crockett’s body of sculpture is so diverse and complex, it is as if more than one artist were at work. His wildly divergent use of materials, formal properties, and styles suggests several hands. The artist—who is now 35 years old—has created abstract installations using balloons, chiseled away at polyester resin to create classical human form, and riffed on historical subject matter by using cultured marble to shape larger-than-life mice. It is a wide range for a young artist. Crockett’s work became visible in 1997, when he was chosen to produce an installation for the Whitney Biennial. He created a room-sized work, Ignis Fatuus, from long, stringy balloons of bilious grays, bloody pinks, and intestinal purples evoking human innards. By 2000, his human-scale mouse, Ecce Homo, was pictured in the Science Times section of the New York Times in a piece on genetics crashing up against art positioned before a longer essay about the genetic revolution. Portrait of a Lifetime (2004) is a self-portrait of the human life cycle composed as a wood relief. Critics may suggest that Crockett’s work is so various that it is not of a piece, that his contrary processes make his sculpture defy categorization. Ultimately, subject matter unifies Crockett’s project into an evolving whole of discrete bodies of production. What sets his work apart is mastery of craftsmanship tied to the study of art historical precedents, specifically ancient, Renaissance, Baroque, and even contemporary art.

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