“Balance” is word that comes up frequently when Bill Crosby talks about his art. He doesn’t mean the kind of balance that comes from having everything in sync, or on one level. Instead, it is the yin and yang of his two preferred media—painting and photography. Landscape is the subject of both. Crosby’s photographs capture a realistic view of mountains, shoreline, water, and sky, while his canvases create the impression of a landscape, and allow viewers to form their own interpretations of the scene.
“My painting is very much in the tradition of the abstract expressionists,” Crosby says. “I have big areas of white or light colors, and then the middle ground has a network of changing shapes that can suggest masses of land, water, trees, and growth of different kinds.”
Crosby began painting in college and his first artistic foray was into realism. When he and his wife moved to the Adirondacks—where he taught photography and art at the State University of New York, Plattsburgh for 35 years—“it was the first time I had been out in the landscape for any extended period of time,” he says. “Being in that environment: Lake Champlain, the mountains of Vermont and the Adirondacks of New York was fertile ground for both my photographic work and painting.”
Photography took care of his more ordered, design-focused side (Crosby studied architecture before turning to art), freeing him up to pursue abstraction on canvas, he says. His bold forms are created with large brushes, including those generally used for house painting, and he describes his working style as spontaneous and improvised. “I start with big strokes,” Crosby says. “Sometimes there might be a horizon line established; it might get destroyed, or changed, or there might be several levels of the horizon line happening. One brushstroke leads to what I’m going to next—and I don’t know what I’m going to do next until I’ve done it. Nothing is planned.”
Crosby’s extensive use of white and his paintings’ lack of small details are purposeful. “I leave a lot of things unfinished,” he says. “This is where I think the viewer can interject their own feelings to complete a painting for them. This allows it to change too, depending on who is seeing it and at what time of day.”
In Maine, Crosby often finds inspiration while kayaking the St. George River near his second home. “The sky, the rock formations, and the changing tides—all of this influences my work, but not directly. It’s more like feelings and emotions,” he says. “I love what happens accidentally. That paint hits the canvas and sometimes it runs or it drips—things you couldn’t realistically try to plan out. You can use it, or not. Things happen and you go with it. Go with the flow.”