the difference between 50 and 80: a micro story

This is a story about my grandfather:

1999. These bones are not like those bones, heavy and box-like, heaving under breath and skin. These bones - mine - are small and narrow. His are thick with age. Amidst the beeps and flickers of monitors and lights he is restless.  I have held this hand a thousand times before, rolled this knuckle between forefinger and thumb, mapping its outcroppings and valleys.  Eyes.  Two intense brown pools that tease, entice one with promise, and unfathomable depth. And if depth could be described as sound, his eyes were a slow steady pulsing, like a soft tether drum, or the recessed shallows of a heartbeat.

When I was born he was 50 years old. I am 29. He stirs gently, and then his voice lifts with command. "Get in position! Dig that deeper! Over there, that wall! Move it, Move it!" The lights flicker and I know he is there, in that place so long ago. He calms, and squeezes my hand. "Oh, hello sweets, you're here." I am here.

In the distance the doctor's voices sound like footsteps on carpet, muffled yet deliberate. They talk about the difference between fifty and eighty.

for paul.

a story ©helenfcrawford


new work 2018

paintings from "A View From the Passenger Seat"

36" x 36"

the painting blog is back. look for more painting, drawing, writing, and photography soon.

6" x 6"
12" x 12"

"American Birch"
"American Birch" 36" x 36"

12" x 9"



once when I was around around 20, I climbed up to the top of the Times Building to take a photo. my friend Vanessa and I had already ventured all over Manhattan with our cameras so standing on the top of a water tower above Times Square just seemed like a natural thing to do for us. we received permission, and signed waivers barring the owner from any legal obligation should we fall off. while we were up there, I decided that some day I wanted to put something big in Times Square. 

times square from the water tower, 1992
silver-gelatin print

10 years later it happened. along with five talented men, we worked day and night for two years. the design of 7 Times Tower was a grueling experience in terms of site, client, schedule, daily life, health, and as you can surmise, gender. I continue to build and I continue to paint. someday I want to create a large land sculpture for star gazing. but not yet.

7 times square, 2002

many people think in order to assemble a body of work that is viable, one must remain consistent in a discipline or medium. a painter should paint. a writer should write. but i don't believe that. i think a creative person should have as many dreams one is capable of handling in a lifetime. dreams are weighty, and dangerous; they produce pressure and self-doubt, but they also inspire our will to be. taking on many different creative endeavors over time does not cause one to lose focus, skill or quality. creative work, in general, begins with intention. it includes false starts, inevitable failures, loss, recovery, and time. but it is from this that we get to know ourselves. 

what if we didn't take chances? what if we stayed within the lines? within a single discipline?

categories within a creative process can be effective, but for me they are limiting. painter architect teacher mother wife. i am all these things and more. there is no and/or. too often, we use categories as a way of offering advice to someone or diminishing access to something else. sometimes people use them to tell us who they think we are. you are this. you are that. you are not this. don't have kids. have kids. you have to make a choice, now that you have this or that, do this. do that. why this? why that? categorizing can block creative forces and inhibit growth. to be a creative person you have to know when to work and when to stop and listen to your inner-self.

i have to create things in many mediums and disciplines. it's a sweet, dense spot for an observer of life. my daughter made intricate drawings of bugs and webs when she was four. she drew these on  paper atop tables at restaurants, and in my class at Georgia Tech on certain days when she was with me. these drawings led me to develop a whole series of drawings/paintings on paper in 2014 and 2015.

success is a hard thing to define and measure. for me, success is knowing who I am throughout life, and that is sustainable.

red tape, loose string, and band-aids, 2015.
in private collection.

"grow", digital study for a painting

"marriage",  photo-collage 2016

in my work:
"I am interested in visual icons of occupation, comfort, and discomfort. In painting, I explore how we collect, wear, and inhabit objects and places to create a sense of control, balance, safety, and security. Fascinated by visible traces of time left behind by us, via form, use, and setting, I examine how we dwell in the world. I work in oil paint, acrylic paint, drawing materials, collage, and photography. I develop paintings in multiple series. On occasion, I also conceive of very large things and build them."

things I have been working on this year:

paintings on paper, wood and canvas in progress:

idea board for a green space in progress:

new wood framed building under construction:


Going Big: a survey and opening night

joyce miller, discarded thoughts.

artists meet in coffee shops and bars. we talk about thoughts, art, life and studio. it's a thing, and always has been. at the famous cedar tavern, the ab-exer's met almost every night. they drank, laughed, fought, sulked, said stupid things and sometimes said brilliant things. they went on the road together. they networked in common creativity. they participated in salon style exhibitions. 

"And Franz was a charmer and filled with -oh, Phil Guston and I got talking, telling Franz Kline stories. Phil told this: Franz also was a great drinker, and they went out, he and Franz were on a panel at the Chicago Art Institute. Franz stayed up all night the night before, drinking all night. When they got back on the panel, Franz's head was nodding like a dormouse, he was so sleepy, and they were fighting back and forth, the audience. Franz didn't say much. Someone says, "What is painting, anyhow?" Franz lifted his head and he said, 'Painting, painting's like stuffing a mattress. Didn't you ever stuff a mattress?" - Grace Hartigan

we know what it means to "stuff a mattress". Franz's comment is a brilliant description of the feeling of making artworks. so much is pouring out of our skin we have to put it somewhere to get comfortable or even uncomfortable. one doesn't do this work unless it is necessary to be at peace in the world. we break and then we build. many of us are in our studios all day long in solitude; social media sometimes becomes our tavern. we create, share, meet, drink, fight, sulk, say stupid things, and sometimes say brilliant things. occasionally, we gather together in big ways, in real space and time, and make things happen, just as artists have for centuries.

Going Big is a large, salon-style group show of art colleagues, who hang in a virtual tavern. curated by Suzan Shutan and Susan Carr, the exhibition highlights the work of 111 artists from across the country. all the work is 16 inches in size or under. the artists participating in Going Big range from established artists to mid-career artists to emerging artists. the work from the show is for sale.

see this exhibition at central booking on new york's lower east side.
contact: central booking

photos by joanne mattera
photos by fred gudzeit
photo by mark van wagner
photo by joan fitzsimmons

some favorites (but not all of them) from the exhibition.

judy pfaff
jon cowan
nancy baker
susan scott
tamar zinn
richard kooyman
blossom verlinsky
frankie gardiner
melanie parke
sky pape
jeanne tremel
julia schwartz
connie goldman
grace graupe-pillard 
laura moriarty

press about this exhibition:

here is my piece.
helen crawford
read more about this piece and series here.