Skip to content

Art: Interview with Rod Crossman

By Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson

The latest
issue of Spectrum, which is already in the hands of subscribers, features Rod
Crossmans’ abstract painting, “First Man,” on the cover. Born in South Dakota and raised
in Upstate New York, Crossman now lives in Indiana, where he makes a living
creating paintings and as a professor and Artist in Residence at Indiana
Wesleyan University. Crossman’s paintings have been published on the covers and
in the pages of the best sporting magazines, books, and journals. His work has
been exhibited and collected worldwide, including at the Smithsonian, Chicago
Art Institute, Woodson Art Museum, Ward Museum, High Museum and some of the
most elite galleries. In addition, he has designed trout, turkey, upland and duck
stamps for several states. His artwork ranges from landscape and nature artwork
to abstract paintings, such as the one that appears on Spectrum’s cover.
According to Crossman, “First Man” is a painting that “explores the idea of
polar opposites in color, value, and materials and the way they complete each
Recently, I interviewed Rod via email. Here’s our conversation on art and the sublime:
Would you mind sharing a bit about your background and
how you came to be an artist? Has art been a lifelong passion for you?

I have always been drawn
to those things that surprise me. My mother was able to help nurture a
deep appreciation for the beautiful… a sunset, flower, a good story…. Our home
contained very little “art.”  Our family was economically very poor, but
rich in love.  I do think my curiosity and deep appreciation for beauty
was formed in the tension of this crucible.

Your body of work covers a wide range of styles—realist landscapes,
sporting art, etchings, abstract paintings, American Indian subjects, figures,
and even film. How is it that you came to embrace so many diverse styles of

Exploring such a diverse range of subjects and style creates
another type of tension or conflict. The possibility of a shallow
reasoning or research exists. Artists also seem to be pushed into one
area or style because of marketing pressures that come from publishers,
galleries and collectors. It happens in every kind of art… music, theater,
writing, etc…. My question is why? Why does it have to be that way?
What are your influences, artistic and otherwise?
As far as work goes, my major influence is the design I see
in creation. Lately I’ve been inspired by the work of Industrial Designer Ross
Lovegrove, photographer Gregory Colbert, and Dutch artist Theo Jansen.
I’m also researching the idea of sustainable growth. Being a responsible
citizen and steward of our natural resources has become a more important issue
in my life.
What kind of physical space do you paint in—do you create
your nature paintings on location or from memory? What is your creative process

I work in a large
converted Quaker Church that was abandoned a century ago. Originally it was the
first Quaker Meeting House in this part of Indiana during the early 1800s.
It overlooks a small stream and is a constant source of inspiration. I
paint from life, memory, and a blend of both. I like to experiment with ways of
applying paint. Lately I’ve been experimenting with a blend of digital and
traditional painting on the same platform.
You say that you’re “interested in moments of ‘Wonder’
and ‘Awe’—the magical ‘state of being’ that leaves us vulnerable to the idea
there is something more important in universe than ourselves.” Is this sense of
wonder one of the themes you explore in your art? Do you have a sense of what
that “something more important” might be?

I agree with
the author David James Duncan. He suggests that to live without a sense of awe
and wonder might not be a “sin” in the spiritual sense but that it surely is
one artistically. I also think wonder and awe helps keep us from becoming too
infatuated with our own self worth or being deceived into believing we are in
control of our world. The antithesis of pride is a humble spirit. This humble
spirit makes it possible to love others more than we love ourselves. I believe
in God the Creator who has known and loved us from the very beginning of time.
In Genesis Chapter two, it says he created all sorts of trees for the Garden
and made them “ pleasing to the eye.” That implies he created them for our
pleasure—a sublime thought: to be loved by the one who created all things is a thought
too deep for words. This love comes with a call to love others more than we
love ourselves. This love does not give us the right to live without “seeing.”
Understanding that love allows us to “see” the  “Holy” in everything, from
a tiny water drop to the ocean.

Of your painting, “Revelation” that
that hangs overhead in the lobby of a building on the Indiana Wesleyan
University campus, you said, “We are both a physical and spiritual being, but
often our spiritual eyes are shut, making it impossible to see the invisible
yet eternal things around us.” Do you consider yourself to be a Christian
artist? If so, what does that term mean to you?

The whole idea of “Christian artist” is kind of a gnarly one
for me. Am I a “Christian artist” or an “artist” who happens to be a Christian?
Does my faith identify me or my calling? We seem to need labels—it helps us
feel like we belong to the club. When we paste that label somewhere visible,
it’s a free pass to the club meeting. I tend to think that’s a dangerous way to
figure out where or who we belong to. Should I put a cross behind my
signature to let people know I’m a Christian? That kind of action can suggest
I’m not ashamed, or it can be a visual testimony, but for me it can be an easy
form of evangelism. I prefer a personal evangelism that is born out of earning
a right to be heard. The best way to do that is by loving one another.
Bonnie Dwyer’s editorial in the current issue references
something you pondered in your blog: “Will God hold us responsible for the
questions we don’t ask?” This would seem to point toward our moral
responsibilities as human beings. What is art’s role in this?

Art can bring understanding and meaning to those things that
there are no words for. It’s one of the reasons human beings have always
needed it. When I stand in front of Michelangelo’s Pieta, it’s like being
able to stand at the very edge of the universe and see thousands of galaxies.
Scripture says “ the heavens declare his glory.” Good art can do that too. It
can also be good worship and good stewardship. I think it can bring pleasure to
God. It’s perhaps visual evidence of our love. Art can encourage and
enhance worship, thoughtfulness, and it can usher in revelation and encourage
social change through changed hearts.
Do you believe art has an impact in today’s society, which has been
described as fragmented and lacking coherence? How do you feel about the idea
that art can or ought to bring about social change?

I want to feel the pleasure of God. One of my favorite verses
is 11 Chronicles 16: 9: “The eyes of God roam throughout the earth,
looking to strengthen the one who is devoted to him.” I keep throwing my
art out there, making it the best I can, trusting God will see it and know how
much I love. Then His strengthening will allow me to love the world in a way
that makes it a little better place to live.

Both of your sons are serving in the military—one of them
in Iraq. How are they doing?

Both of my boys are in the Army. Both have been a part of
the current war. My oldest son was there in the beginning and my youngest is
there now. War is always tough on the families but tougher still on the
soldiers. I pray every day for our young men and women in uniform. My boys are
doing ok but need your prayers. Thanks for asking.
Visit Rod Crossman’s website.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Spectrum Newsletter: The latest Adventist news at your fingertips.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.