Some of Katie Crown's newest paintings are non-objective watercolors with strong colors and shapes. Though the works were completed recently, many began as abstract landscape watercolors she painted in the 1970s and '80s, now updated with jazzy improvisations on those themes. The past is seen with today's eyes. The new paintings play with core geometric forms, including themes of arcs and triangles. Crown uses airbrush techniques and expressive, saturated color to bring texture and tone to the works, enriching the emotional content.

Flag of No Nation

Comments from Katie Crown about her paintings of dancers:

This is figurative art in a frenzy. These dancers move somewhere between reality and cartoon. They're ungrounded, but who isn't these days?

Color is very important to me. The color is carefully worked out. Watercolor gives it a vibrancy that you can't get with oil paint. I apply the watercolor paint very dryly with an oil-painting brush for a pastel-sketch texture that gives the figures action. I also enjoy the challenge of playing with these unusual compositions. 

I want the viewer to be drawn into the dance. I go hear lots of live music, and sometimes I sketch the dancers who swing to it.

When I studied at art school in Boston, my apartment window was across an alley from the dormitory for students at the New England Conservatory of Music. I heard many budding musicians in their rooms, practicing their various instruments while I painted. The cacophony was strange and inspiring. These paintings celebrate music and dance.

I'm pulling the energy of dance away from a specific location. That is a cartoon trait. Some of the painters I admire most are those who have raised cartooning to a fine art, such as Saul Steinberg.


Katie Crown adds a twist to California's heritage of figure painting. She puts California figures where they belong: outdoors in the sun. Her paintings of beach dramas frame the energy and color of beachgoer bodies in geometrical landscapes of sand, waves and horizon.

"I love cartooning, and southern California beaches are so like a stage of characters on parade they make an irresistible subject," Crown says. "I'm watching it, recording a diary of it. I love pattern, too, and the bathing suits, postures and body shapes give me a playground for patterns and pigments."

The beach scenes share traits with Crown's earlier ceramic sculptures of audiences and café scenes. These paintings and sculptures put people into scenes associated with joy and pleasure, but show a noir side. The beachgoers engage in fun activities and strike funny postures, but few in the crowd seem aware of any others. "Alienation lives at the beach, too," says Crown. "This is still Raymond Chandler's town."

Righteous Beach Painting

Comments from Katie Crown about her landscape watercolor paintings:

Watercolor landscapes are very close to my heart, as my father, Keith Crown, was an abstract watercolor painter and we were often painting buddies. I learned so much from him. Even before I was old enough for college, he allowed me to join his college watercolor classes painting outdoors in the Canadian Rockies, Bryce Canyon and North Carolina. He was my formal painting teacher at the University of Southern California. He instilled in me a poetic attitude toward color and form. He introduced me to the works of John Marin, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Over more than three decades, I often painted next to him at sites around Taos, New Mexico, where I learned to worship the infinite sky and extraordinary clouds.

I love the freeness of watercolor and its ability to conjure enchanted states. From my early years and through hundreds of outings in various landscape settings, I learned to look at a scene and break it down into its major forms that could stand as metaphors for living beings and forces. Color is all important to me, and I arrive at my color from my emotional state. I want my paintings to be like screams.

The outdoor process renews me: to perceive and analyze the chosen site's shapes and energy, the air and sounds and scents, and to physically put my ideas into the pigments on the paper in front of me.

Taos Spring

Audiences are a favorite theme of Katie Crown's, both for sculpting and for painting. These wall-mounted works position the art viewer as the star of a show. Who's looking at whom? Everyone has been part of audiences. Crown’s audiences humorously bring that shared experience to mind, along with the sense of being observed by the group.

"As a subject matter, it's a gold mine for an artist," she says. "You get to play with the human figure. I enjoy cartooning, and the audience gives me an excuse to riff on faces and moods." She also uses the grid-based audience groupings for presenting patterns and rhythms in the colors and tones of the composition.

Her earliest audience works are multiple rows of ceramic busts facing forward, attired and expressive as befits different types of performances: formal wear to Western wear to 3-D glasses, singing or laughing or staring. A key inspiration was visiting an archaeological museum in Greece that displayed dozens of ancient ceramic figures in neat rows inside a display case.

When Crown turned to oil paint for additional audiences, she drew upon another type of inspiration: film noir. She created a series of audience paintings in shades of gray, with many of the faces based on audience scenes from classic black-and-white movies. As in those favorites films of hers, the black-and-white palette of these paintings imparts rawness and immediacy. "I'm not going for tasteful," she notes. "They're a bit like James Ensor and Edvard Munch showed up at a ballet." For other audience paintings she taps a full range of color, making lively fashion choices for some of the people depicted. The types of groupings broaden to juries and voters, with a wider sense of how people respond to a show. "What do undecided voters look like?" ponders an artist who is rarely indecisive.

The Last Laugh