It’s rare to see abstract landscape watercolor paintings constructed of basic composition patterns that take a life of their own. However, Truckee artist Chris Crossen’s pieces do exactly that. Crossen’s unique painting process shows in the final production, in the interactions of squares, circles, waves and other shapes that deliver sensations of contrast, depth, movement and balance.
Before Crossen and his wife moved to Truckee in 2004, he was living in San Francisco working as a freelance writer.
“San Francisco in the ‘90s was amazing; it wasn’t as hectic or congested as it is now,” says Crossen. “Although it’s an awesome place to live, I was getting out of San Francisco all of the time.” Every weekend he left the city to explore the mountains, the desert or the ocean.
“The cool thing about art is that you never know where it’s gonna take you. I tell my kids, ‘If you follow your passion, it will lead you to some interesting places.’ ” -Chris Crossen
Although Crossen grew up with family members who studied and taught different forms of art, he never truly got into it until he started spending time with his younger brother in the outdoors and something clicked.
“My brother lives in Costa Rica and has a surf camp. So when I went down to visit we would surf, hang out and paint together,” he says. “It was on those trips when (watercolor painting) got into my blood.”
During a time in San Francisco when he was single and unemployed, Crossen spent most of a year surfing, painting and looking for work. He incrementally got better with his watercolor art and started selling postcards at bookstores around the Bay before creating larger pieces on request.
“I could never afford the art I liked, so I started painting it myself,” he says. “I see art as problem solving. I’m always trying to figure out a way to convey a feeling through a method that I don’t know will work — and most often it doesn’t.”
According to Crossen, he likes watercolors because it gives him the constant opportunity to experiment: “The cool thing about art is that you never know where it’s gonna take you. I tell my kids, ‘If you follow your passion, it will lead you to some interesting places.’ ”
For instance, a couple of years ago Crossen’s artwork ended up on a few Jones’ snowboard top sheets. Living next door to the professional snowboarder, his artwork recently was noticed by an O’Neill representative when he saw a Crossen watercolor painting hanging on Jeremy Jones’ wall. One of Crossen’s watercolor patterns will soon be featured in an O’Neill 2017-18 snowboard jacket clothing line.
Crossen says that a lot of what he paints is on impulse, but he tries to capture the essence of the environment and distill an experience so it’s more accessible. He concentrates on two facets of his art: the established work that sells and a part that allows him to go crazy in experimentation.
“A part of my studio is dedicated to messing around. I don’t know what’s going to happen in there,” he says. “My work has a lot of layers and opacities and you have to let all of those dry.” A painting in his living room displays thousands of brightly colored squares, some bleeding outside of their mold and taking on different shapes.
“What I like is going into it with an idea but then it does its own thing,” Crossen says. “It’s a lot of randomness; I just embrace the natural process.”
Lake Tahoe has also given him a large palate with which to work, as well as time spent in wild places in his younger life.
“I think it’s important to surround yourself in beauty. Look how big the world is. We’re tiny,” he says.
Crossen admits that his relationship with art and nature is difficult to put into words, but that it helps him to be close to the places that he loves. He compares it to surfing and having the feeling that the whole world disappears.
“I like it when you can get lost in that flow state, where you’re beyond yourself to the point where you don’t matter,” he says.
For more information, visit chriscrossen.com.