Tuesday 26 May 2015

5 Works of Art Inspired by Crosswords

The sight of a crossword affects not just people like us who solve or set. The stark geometry of its grid, the passion it inspires in people who engage with it, are subjects of fascination to artists too.

A few crossword-driven works of art for you to savour, with commentary by the artists.

1 Crossword Puzzle [Ink wash drawing by Max Ferguson]

The scene is of a man in a pub in London, whom the artist Max Ferguson chanced upon while traveling through the city in 2004. By the look of it, the solver is battling a particularly fiendish cryptic.

Crossword Puzzle: Max Ferguson

Most of Max Ferguson's paintings are in oil paint and highly polished, with true-to-life colours. It's probably fitting that this one, centered on a crossword, is in monochrome. He says:

This was rather challenging as ink wash has to be done very quickly and is a very unforgiving medium. When I am about to begin a new piece I think about what medium / size would work well for that particular image. In this case I felt a small (10 x 12 inches) ink wash drawing would be well-suited.

This drawing is available at the time of writing this – visit Max Ferguson's site for more.

2 Crossword Puzzle with Lady in Black Coat [Gouache by Paulina Olowska]

Gouache-on-canvas artwork from Paulina Olowska​'s exhibition 'Au Bonheur des Dames' (The Ladies' Delight) at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in 2009. Photo from another angle here shows the imposing size of this work.

Crossword Puzzle with Lady in Black Coat: Paulina Olowska

A crossword person will no doubt notice the unorthodox checking and clue slot numbering of the grid. Perhaps it represents a puzzle that's not meant to be solved?

3 Dad's Crossword [Oil/linen by Duane Keiser]

Duane Keiser made this painting as part of his popular A Painting A Day project in 2013. The painting is of a Washington Post grid, which his dad solves almost everyday. As Duane puts it:

I don't think he even reads the news anymore in the paper-- he pulls out the crossword and throws the rest away.

Hands up all of you who do the same? [My hand is raised!]

Dad's Crossword: Duane Keiser

This oil on linen artwork is 6 x 7 inches, almost life-sized to the actual crossword. It was sold via auction on Duane's blog. [You can request for a print here if you're interested.]

Describing the thought behind the painting, Duane says:

There are a couple of things that attracted me to this scene: in comparison to the now ubiquitous digital media, newsprint has a kind of warmth and intimacy to it now. I zoomed in close to the subject to give a sense of being lost in concentration while the outside world momentarily disappears. Lastly, I liked the calligraphic aspects of the marks and the geometry of the crossword juxtaposed with the curves of the glasses.

It was a challenge to keep the structure of the crossword but not get bogged down in unnecessary detail. I was mostly interested in the visual rhythm of the words rather than simply copying them. You can almost read the words, but not quite - it is what you'd see if you glanced at it.

4 Crossword Tools [Oil painting by Sarah Lytle]

Coffee, reading glasses, and a pen – 'crossword tools' as the artist calls them. Sarah Lytle is not a coffee drinker or a crossword person (she prefers the Sudoku!) – this painting was prompted by her mother's tools of choice. Sarah describes her mother as a crossword fan who can solve the hardest of puzzles.

She must have her glasses, her morning coffee and her pen. I can see her sitting at the breakfast table or curled up in the chair, glasses perched on her nose, newspaper folded in half to the puzzle, working away. It makes me smile thinking about it.

Crossword Tools: Sarah Lytle

This 8 x 8 inch painting was made wet-on-wet (alla prima, meaning 'at first attempt' in Italian). 'Crossword Tools' is sold already, but you can reach out to Sarah for commissioned work.

5 Red Tomatoes on Crossword Puzzle [Watercolour by Carolyn Watson]

At artist Carolyin Watson's home, garden tomatoes were laid out on newspaper on the floor to ripen, when she was struck by the contrast of the red over black-and-white.

I loved the way the red of the tomatoes was reflected into the shadows and how the black of the newsprint was darker in the shadow.

This led to a series of watercolors of vegetables placed over crosswords.

Tomatoes on Crossword: Carolyn Watson 

These tomatoes eclipse the clues too, in making the grid fills: VINE, RIPE, HOME, GROWN, TOMATO - and the US-style grid gives neat placeholders for the words on the left hand side.

Another interesting painting from the series is Red Peppers on Crossword, which looks as if someone abandoned solving midway and started doodling on the grid instead.

The originals are sold, but you can buy prints and request for commissioned originals of the peppers on crossword with customized grid fills.

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Vasant said...

You can easily identify with all the paintings except perhaps number 2.
The 1st, 3rd & 4th remind me of my grandfather who till his last day did his xword.
I raise my hand for not reading but now I have gone a step further: I have quit buying newspapers which amazes my father.I do the x words on line & who reads news anyway.

Lakshmi Vaidyanathan said...

I raise my hand :D
My brother used to tease me (have not stopped, still going on ) *Lakshmi never bothers to read the news , just pulls out the CW page * :P

Lakshmi Vaidyanathan said...

Thanks for sharing the beautiful paintings !

Unknown said...

Great post. I feel honored to be included with such talented artists. Thank you!!

Shuchi said...

@Vasant: On #2, I wish I had found a way to contact the artist Paulina Olowska​. Maybe with her annotation, it would have been easier to identify with it. The picture is a famous one - it's on Wikipedia.

@Lakshmi: We are all in this together :-) If the way newspapers write about crossword events is anything to go by, dare I say we aren't missing much ;-)

@Sarah: Glad you liked the post. Thanks a lot for sharing your painting pic and your thoughts, it was really nice to interact with you. All the best!

Carolyn Watson said...

Thanks so much for choosing my paintings for your article. My mother did crosswords as long as I can remember. We lived in rural Mississippi and the Comercial Apeal from Memphis came in the mail. Us kids would fight over the paper to read the comics, then my mother took it over to read the news and do the crossword. My sister does the crossword every day now in the Tupelo, Ms Daily Journal. I do them occasionally but had rather be painting.

Shuchi said...

@Carolyn: Good to know of crossword lovers in your family!

The idea of red over black & white in your painting appeals to me very much - as you can see, this site's template follows the same color scheme :-)

Lakshmi Vaidyanathan said...

Lol Shuchi, the best one is the Chennai open xie coverage :P

Kishore said...

Nice art and article, Shuchi. Lakshmi, one news report had Shuchi all at sea, in the nautical mode, running up the spanker ...

Kishore said...

Intrigued by the numbering in the second one ...

Shuchi said...

The less said about news reports on Kishore's nefarious predilections while solving, the better ;-) How newspapers choose to label us is a fascinating study in itself - that's a topic for another day.

I tried hard to find some rationale to the numbering in the second one. It isn't sequential, it doesn't seem to follow any pattern. Maybe it is deliberately random.

Kishore said...

Aah, Shuchi, you don't realise what you have missed by not reading Asteris. Here's a pseudonym I could have taken:


Lakshmi Vaidyanathan said...

@Kishore Yes I remember that also ;)
@Shuchi They are bothered more about the sales than the news :)