Michael Croman
American Landscapes

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The Roots and Branches of My Artistic Life

Boston, the city of my birth and first 10 years, was the incubator. New Haven, the place of my teen and high school years was my laboratory. And New York City was the source of inspiration for a lifetime of involvement in the arts, and oil painting specifically.

From my earliest memories, I recall countless trips with my mother to the Boston Museum of Fine Art and other public and private art collections in the city. Her intent seemed more on introducing me to the cultural wealth of the city than inspiring me to become an artist. In fact, upon my graduation from high school, she and my father encouraged me to pursue pharmacy, recognizing my strong academic record in the sciences.

At age 10, my family moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where I attended James Hillhouse High School. It was located in the center of Yale University's campus. There I made frequent trips to the Yale Art Gallery and British Art Collection and all of the university's departments of art and architecture. I never had any formal art classes, but in my senior year I was self-motivated to try to copy paintings from books that I had been acquiring on artists and their work. I was especially fond of the French Impressionists and their successors. New Haven's proximity to New York City made it possible for me to make my own forays into yet more museums, private collections and galleries, adding enormously to my well-established memory bank of art imagery.

FollowinMichael Cromang my parents' advice, I entered the College of Pharmacy at the University of Connecticut in 1957. But it wasn't very long before I felt I had made a mistake.One elective in my second semester, a survey course in art history, completely turned my head. I was so taken by what I saw that I decided not to finish my freshman year and set off to find a college that offered a full-time program in the visual arts. As I pondered the practical issues surrounding this decision, I chose the University of Southern Connecticut, which focused primarily on preparing teachers. The art department was in its second year and its teachers were active practitioners in their fields. The painting faculty members were advocates of action painting/abstract expressionism that was at the height of its critical acclaim in New York.

While I lacked any formal training or experience prior to my sophomore year, I quickly adapted and caught up with the more advanced students. By my third year I was competing in area juried shows and selling my work in local galleries.

Respecting my parents' concerns about making a living, and choosing to marry young and raise children, I took my first teaching post at a high school in Berlin, Connecticut A year later, my wife and I moved to Fairfield County, taking teaching posts in New York, just over the Connecticut border. Once again, the lure of New York's museums, galleries and Greenwich Village consumed much of our free time. But soon it became clear that teaching could not provide the necessary income to support a family.

After five years in the classroom, I took a chance and became the manager of all exhibitions at the Museum of Art, Science and Industry in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Now I was in contact with many of the artists whose work I saw in New York and I was creating art and interdisciplinary exhibitions for the public. That was interrupted four years later by museum budget problems and delayed pay. Fortunately, I had received a grant the previous year from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts for an exhibiton art and visual perception. That grant introduced me to the Commission, and a year later I was hired to serve as field representative. Over the next 10 years I would experience every aspect of administering a state arts commission and all of the arts disciplines it served. In my final year at the Commission, I served as Acting Director during my director's year-long sabbatical.

Painting continued on and off throughout my working years. But in 1980, at age 40, I was moved to apply for the position of Executive Director of the Washington State Arts Commission. I served in that capacity for nine years but painting was almost totally put aside due to the workload. From the Arts Commission I made one more transition to administer a low-income housing program for the state of Washington. This was the only employment I had that wasn't related to the arts. I was still a few years short of credit to take an early retirement but I felt an urgent need to paint and decided to make a full-time commitment to my art. I felt that I needed at least 10 years to test my skills and attempt to bring my life around to its original purpose. In February 2001, I began my artistic career in earnest.

Just a few months into my newfound work, I stumbled upon a different way of painting. I was working on a painting for several days when I realized that a very small area wasn't working out well. In scrubbing the area I pressed cloth into the turpentine soaked spot trying to recover it. In doing so, I observed some textural effects that appealed to me more than the entire rest of the painting. The next morning I replicated the same surface effects and made the commitment to follow this technique as the basis for landscape painting. The results were most rewarding to me, and viewers responded very favorably to my early experiments.

Over the years, the technique has held up very well. I continued to refine it through ongoing experimentation with the materials. Soon brushes were used only to apply the paint, followed immediately by many different strokes of the cloth on the wet surface; each producing a different pattern of color, light, shadow and texture. After hundreds of paintings, I became confident enough to make the kind of impressions that I envisioned ahead of time. It is my desire to paint nature from the inside out and to emphasize the fractal qualities of the patterns we see in the natural environment. My technique suits my purpose very well.

Fifty years have passed since I tried to copy a small painting of olive trees by Van Gogh. Over 800 paintings have been completed. A very respectable number have been sold. And in the past five years, prices have risen to be competitive in the marketplace. My work is now in over 150 private collections throughout the United States and abroad. The majority of my collectors have two or more of my paintings, a few as many as eight.

As the number of galleries and exhibitions grows, the opportunity to fulfill my youthful ambitions is within reach. My mother, who lived to age 97, clearly expressed her delight about my good fortune before she passed away. I hope my wife Marilyn and my three children, Kelly, Julie and Sean, especially enjoy further positive experiences from my life's work. They have been very tolerant of the time I have taken from their lives to pursue my singular commitment.

I like to think of the paintings as the leaves that have grown from my youthful tree. Seeded in early childhood, matured through hard work and commitment, they are now scattered among many people who have found joy and pleasure in their creation.

The images that follow are from the past six years, all reflecting the use of cloth. My subjects are drawn from memory, often a composite of several places in one painting. They represent most of the country, from New England and the Pacific Northwest, where I have lived and worked, to many areas of the Midwest, South and Southwest, where I have traveled extensively.

Michael Croman
3333 Madrona Beach Rd. NW
Olympia, Washington 98502

Phone: 360-866-9542
Fax: 360-867-9857
E-mail: mikecroman@earthlink.net