Linda Cross

Relief Paintings 2016-2017

Relief Paintings 2012- 2014

Relief Paintings

In these most recent works, I deliberately combine the physicality of sculptural forms with illusionistic realism and shifting viewpoints. Fabricated of paper and acrylic elements, these rocks and riverbeds are traces, or symbols of the earth’s slowly evolving process, and they create a visceral dialogue with the refuse of a material world. The relief paintings contrast an abstract wilderness with the pervasive intrusion of civilization. The riparian calm of rocky creek beds is broken by glutted heaps of rubble. Color, dimension and meaning are explored as the elements are assembled into interconnected layers of sections or strata. The observer becomes an excavator, discovering multiple readings in the collision of nature’s evolution and our ever-increasing encroachment.

-Linda Cross


Although known for her large installations above, Cross frequently produces more intimately scaled pieces. These smaller relief works explore the concept of an environmental study sample with rocks and debris embedded in the earth's surface.

Installation: Riverline Series: Tivoli Bay, 2009

Linda Cross at the James W. Palmer Gallery, Vassar College and the Beacon Institute of Rivers and Estuaries
by Jonathan Goodman

Poised between categories, Linda Cross’s evocative paintings are not only paintings but relief sculptures as well.She shows us what the Hudson River is like at this moment in time. Unfortunately, according to her vision, the great river is choking on industrial debris, although the beauty inherent in the colors of its stones, banks, and water still comes through in these paintings. The pollution has psychological as well as material consequences: it may be true that efforts are being made to clean up the river, but this does not stop our feeling that perhaps we are too late to save it. Yet Cross makes it clear that while there is much to be done, there is much to celebrate as well. Her shows at Vassar College and Beacon demonstrated her ongoing connection with the Hudson Valley, a familiarity based on her long stay in the area, and were timed to pay homage to the quadricentennial discovery of the Hudson Valley.

Familiar with the coast of Maine, as well as the mesas of New Mexico, Cross has always been interested in nature. She doesn’t paint so much as build her pictures, using stand alone paper and acrylic—as she says, “Rocks, cans, tires, and such are all hand formed.” Her close attention to verisimilitude can fool the viewer, who at first might easily believe that the objects are real. That is part of the reliefs’ attraction; they seem to convey the reality of water stopped up with manmade detritus. In Shoreline (2009), at Vassar, the viewer sees a foaming blue-and-white sea on the left; in opposition are small rocks and larger patches of brown, most likely a presentation of the darker banks facing the shoreline. Cross is perfectly poised between painting and low relief in this work, whose surface is active with water and stones and shore. It is a good example of her decision to both follow and parody verisimilitude, in textures and imageries that finally leave nature to possess the beauty of an imagined riverscape. Rift (2008), a large relief painting in overlapping planes of paper, colored green and white and whitish pink, she shows remarkable subtlety. Here nature has occasioned unusual finesse.

But in Fresh Kills (2005), at Beacon, garbage is almost all we see. The work, thick with cans and rocks, operates on a sad principle of unstoppable decay. The work can hardly be called beautiful as the cans speak to the casual, ongoing contamination of the river. Yet Cross also finds ways to praise. Riverline Shallows (2009) consists of the kinds of greens and blues we associate with running water and the rocks don’t crowd or dominate the shallows. In Rift (2008), coppers and reddish-whites dominate the surface, which has cracks running from top to bottom; this close-up study of nature demonstrates Cross’s craft process and subtle feeling for color.

Given Cross’s ecological concerns, it might be expected that she would present a predominantly political reading of the river’s decline; however, she has chosen a more complex view, closer to the actual state of the Hudson River, whose beauty continues to resist contamination.

Works on Paper


Natural History installation

Once in a while I find works of art that defy my expectations of what art can be, even as the work follows a centuries-long trajectory. I am referring, of course, to painting. Even as the digital revolution has become increasingly relevant among painters, many of whom have chosen to work between the computer and the canvas, the historical presence of painting continues to persist. Werner Herzog’s recent film on early Paleolithic cave art from nearly 40,000 years ago asserts the need felt by these impassioned painters to inscribe images of animals on the surface of rock. It was their world, and it was what they knew, and their evocation of it in the course of painting these animals would transmit an aesthetic statement thousands of millennia later. This suggests that painting began essentially as a tactile sensation as much as a visual one.

Upon seeing “Natural History” (2011), a wall-size painting by Linda Cross at the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, New York, I became further convinced of this phenomenon. Cross began constructing and painting three-dimensional images of riverbeds in the late 1980s, replicating the look of detritus as well as the indigenous moss and rocks. Over the years, these riverbed segments have developed through numerous variations, some of them included in the current exhibition in Hudson.

Several months ago, after studying the monumental rock formations embedded in the landscape around her home, she decided to shift her angle of vision from the ground to an upright perspective. Her initial studies of these walls of stone suggest a parallel relationship between the rock faults naturally found on site and those that appear to have been constructed long ago. Taking the concept of these modulations between nature and culture into her studio, Cross began working with chunks of synthetic Styrofoam insulation, carving them in a way that simulated rocks, bricks, and stones. Finally, she decided to build “Natural History” in six parts and to give the scale of her rock wall a one-to-one appearance.

There were numerous technical problems along the way, as her pâpier-maché replicas, the weight of the paint, and occasional detritus, including old tin cans mixed in with the simulated ones, needed structural support. One may recall from the film document by Bruce Conner of the famous “Rose” painting by the San Francisco painter Jay DeFeo, that similar problems were encountered when DeFeo moved the painting from her studio in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Also, Cross wanted a site-specific reference to the facing wall of the Haddad Gallery, so that viewers upon entering the space would be immediately confronted by it. The results are phenomenal, striking, and paradoxical—a remarkable tour de force that expands and extends the history of painting in relation to the history of the earth itself.

Robert C. Morgan for the Brooklyn Rail

*This installation is currently exhibited at Traveler's Towers, Southfield MI, Time Equities Art in Buildings Program