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"Astral Planing" saturates a 67-inch-tall canvas with limpid strokes of acrylic paint. PHOTO: GREG STALEY

"Frolicking" interweaves vibrant quilt batting. PHOTO: GREG STALEY

Hanging flat at 38 inches high and 70 inches wide, "Haunting Refrain" is painted on both sides of unprimed cotton canvas. PHOTO: GREG STALEY

"Haunting Refrain" takes varied shapes, shown draped on a wall. PHOTO: GREG STALEY

Crider’s color-saturated "Belly of a Champion." PHOTO: GREG STALEY

Crider sits in her Baltimore studio before a backdrop of color-streaked works—cut down, painted and collaged from an unfinished burlap piece. PORTRAIT: DORA CARROLL

Transformational Art

Sheila Crider unites painting and recycled materials in robust, richly hued works

Brilliant colors blaze a trail across Sheila Crider’s dimensional art. In her mixed-media work, flat canvases may convert to billowing shapes. Textures glide from gridded burlap to subtle Japanese-paper relief. Parts may be woven or laced together. And while materials are often gathered from what’s at hand, meaning isn’t left to chance. Perhaps that’s because Crider started out as a poet.

“In poetry,” she explains, “meaning is derived from words on the page and their relationship within a poem.” Living in France in the late 1980s, speaking French but not utilizing it in poetry, Crider began looking at “the language of abstract art, and how you can use it within the body of a work to communicate feelings and impressions,” she says. “That’s when I became a visual artist.” Having recently settled into a new studio in Baltimore’s Bromo Arts District, the artist adds, “I’m trying to push that language forward in a direction I haven’t taken the work before.”

For inspiration, Crider brought along many items from her former DC studio. Among those bits and pieces were a stack of hanging file folders. After recycling their metal parts into 10-by-10-inch frames, she interwove colorful strips and scraps of traditional quilt batting onto them; she’d saved the fabric from the 2021-2022 exhibit “Intersectional Painting” at McLean Project for the Arts (MPA). Woven and stitched together, pieces in that sculpture series employed quilt batting as a metaphor for community. “It’s about how we interact with others and how we’re all intertwined,” she observes. While Crider was preparing those pieces, MPA artistic director Nancy Sausser commented that the canvases placed under the batting to absorb excess paint looked like ghost paintings.

Crider later reconsidered those canvases, working on both sides to create new pieces with flexible forms. “I wanted them to have multiple views and relationships that could change,” she explains. On her mind were shifting life situations. “Maybe you live in a place now where there’s room to spread a piece out,” she reflects. “Later, you might downsize and want to rearrange the canvas in a way that gives you a totally different painting.” Multiple grommets placed along the canvas edges encourage altering the arrangement.

Crider reshaped two of her canvases at DC’s Honfleur Gallery, where Haunting Refrain hung from the ceiling and Shape Shifter was draped on a wall in the 2022 exhibition “Color + Form = Blackstration.”

The notion of shape-shifting might apply to Crider’s own re-inventive life path. Born in Beckley, West Virginia, she moved as a child to Southeast Washington with her family. Attending public schools, Crider started learning French in third grade and later earned a degree in independent studies at University of Virginia. Finding her way to poetry, she became a founding member of Free DC: The Writers’ Workshop.

Crider first encountered art in the 1970s while working as an artist’s model at the Corcoran School. “From the podium, you could see people at work all around you,” Crider remembers. “I got ideas about how to use materials from that.”

In 1985, the poet moved to Bordeaux, where regular visits to the Museum of Contemporary Art influenced her direction—particularly a Julian Schnabel exhibit. “The series was mind-boggling,” Crider recalls, “but each piece was a work in itself. And that’s the goal: The entirety should be magnificent, while each piece has its own merits. That became important to me.”

By 1994, the self-taught artist was back in DC and selling her hand-dyed stationery and envelopes at Eastern Market. “Everything grew from there,” relates Crider, who branched out to produce additional works on paper such as collages, wall hangings, fans, parasols and eventually prints, at times commingling abstract art and words.

Artist-in-residencies followed, taking Crider from Kentucky to Canada and Paris. Her first public-art commission came in 2009, when she created a mural at DC’s new St. Elizabeths Hospital.

Glancing back on her ties to DC while looking eagerly ahead, the artist continues to transform everyday belongings into fresh beginnings. “I push myself to use what I have and see things where there may be nothing,” she observes, also reflecting an interest in limiting her carbon footprint, “and to understand how I can push that nothingness into something that people can read or perceive—through color and texture essentially.”

Sheila Crider’s art is on view through December 8 in the show “Black Artists of DC“ at The James E. Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University (jelmamuseum.org). For more information, visit outthecube.blogspot.com



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