Thomas Crouch is the proverbial onion. Overwhelming to say the least, his persona is tough to crack. So tough, the potent fumes of his philosophies and his paint almost brought tears to my eyes. At first: Outwardly simple, goes with everything, from the ground – and grounded. Hindsight: Like the flavor base of a 45-ingredient mole sauce – layer upon layer of pure bedlam. Was there a method to the madness, or was madness the method? Never has a writer wanted for a tape recorder like I did at this meeting.
Artist, cook, guitarist, singer, source of social commentary, ex-teacher, T-shirt designer, photographer, and philosopher – I wondered when Crouch last slept.
Day job: Hunter-Gatherer. Cook. I sampled the fresh-brewed fare at Crouch’s restaurant, what he and owner Kevin Varner declared the only real brew-pub in town. The menu and the atmosphere are simple, rustic, and masculine. Academia is in the air. Wooden furniture; authentic African masks, spears, and shields; strange carvings; and Crouch’s paintings – all make for an eclectic and altogether primitive milieu. The largest painting hangs like a guardian over the restaurant and evokes the ancient cave paintings at Lascaux: its animal form looming with ancient power. “All my paintings have some realism in them,” Crouch said.
Unlike his three-year painting education at the Lorenzo de Medici School of Art in Italy, Crouch’s culinary training is informal; everything he knows was learned from working in restaurants. “It’s the best culinary training you can get,” he said, and got up to put on a Fantomas CD. “Wanna hear some really scary shit?”
Between the restaurant’s stained-glass windows, arched doorways, the fact that it was the Christian Sabbath, and Crouch’s menacing, overly-stratified music, I got the feeling I was in for the interview of a lifetime… I was right. The layers continued to peel. “Do a double exposure of my face,” Crouch told photographer Kasi Koshollek, as if he knew I was seeing what I can only describe as his multiple personalities and wanted to document it in an image. “You know when the American-Indians had their pictures taken they believe it took their souls?” he asked. “Is that how you’re feeling?” I asked in turn. “Not necessarily.”
Night life: Studio. Painter. The garage-studio looks like a place Emily Dickinson might have held-up in for awhile. What more could an artist need? Somewhere in the midst of mismatched carpet squares, a keyboard, tattered furniture, a gold spray-painted wheelchair, Crouch’s cigarette smoke, and what looks like a garage-sized portfolio –appears a makeshift easel and the beginnings of Octopus Landscape. Crouch, always on the move, performed to loud music. A mix-tape this time. Back and forth; he walked to-and-from the door of the cinder block garage to get some perspective on his work. “Perfect,” he said. Each stroke of the brush was both impulsive and deliberate. His cat, Spectre, pounced around the artist’s ragged chattels. The lights were bright and illuminated the easel; the rest of the studio remained in darkness. When evening arrived it was darker.
With Octopus Landscape in full force, Crouch spoke of his influences. He cited the Futurists first, who aimed to give multiple perspectives and points-of-view in their works in the early 20th Century. Crouch, who himself is multi-faceted, adapts not only the Futurists’ ideas about artistic and technical perspectives, but their political and philosophical ideas as well. According to the “Triple Triad” (the diagram Crouch conceived and keeps in his studio): institutions inherently interfuse with basic human needs (i.e. the basic need of food intertwines with the capitalism of dining). “My ideas are dissipating a class system with art,” he said.
Crouch’s “Triple Triad”:
In alignment with the “Triple Triad”, Crouch shared his feelings on religion, which were altogether negative. Crouch claimed that religion can be limiting. “It’s a good thing for people because it’s a good form of meditation, but it has created so many problems in the world,” he said. “The structure of society is wrong. It doesn’t work.”
I’m trying to get the viewer to understand a different form of reality through imagery and perspective,” Crouch said. “I’m creating a visual perspective. I’m manipulating the eye…that’s what good paintings do.” His canon of artistic beliefs transcends his work with imagery that essentially represents a Futurists’ belief: Man has conquered nature through technology and innovation. “Why are we going to space when we can explore our own earth?” Crouch asked while working on Octopus Landscape. “I’m trying to develop an image of an octopus devouring a landscape. It signifies that as human beings we are limited. I like to use symbols which are easily recognized by the populous, and that’s why in the same respect as Michelangelo, it would be obvious. It’s realism, and abstract.”
Crouch is certainly no stranger to innovation. His technique is unique to say the least. First, Crouch deliberately sliced masking tape and attached it to the canvas. “Oh tape, it’s a good thing,” he said. He then carefully mixed and chose each stroke’s pigment, swiped it across the top of the tape and sprayed each line of color with water. Crouch further cited Francis Bacon as an influence, most notable in the ominous experience of his works and the paint that seeps down from each stroke, forming dripping trails of disturbing serendipity. Crouch, in a more conservative light, mentioned the methods of Caravaggio’s works, which were meant to be read from left to right, like a book. Crouch, in Octopus Landscape, attempted to reverse this reading pattern for yet another perspective. “I like to use artificial looks and designs, but it’s painting,” he said. “It’s parody…satire.”
The layers of Crouch’s persona and his paintings overlap to form Gestalt masterpieces, each work full of physical and psychological stratification. His head, constantly overflowing with thought, is topped with disheveled hair and his mouth can barely keep up. “There’s an underground current coming through Columbia,” Crouch said. “There’s great artists and fresh new shit that’s around Columbia.”