Dreams and the subconscious are themes Joel Crosswell returns to often. His drawings and sculptures reference biographical events with a dreamlike sensibility where abstract elements of the natural world filter through his images. One of Crosswell’s better-known pieces is a suite of drawings depicting a tiny endangered fish, the Clarence galaxias. Drawn by Crosswell as part fish part human, figures like his humanoid galaxias are a mainstay of his imagery and evoke the chimeras sketched into the margins of medieval texts.
Crosswell’s galaxias figures were inspired in part by his participation in a wilderness arts residency at Tasmania’s remote and aptly named Skullbone Plains. Home to wedge-tailed eagles, spotted quolls and pillowy beds of sphagnum moss, there is an overwhelming sense of the unknown in Skullbone’s ancient moorlands. It is this sense of the unknown that continues to pervade Crosswell’s work and in Anonymous Souls, which he blends with symbolic references to psychoanalysis and cultural beliefs.
As a result, Crosswell’s images are figuratively surreal and his protagonists appear as delicately hued, humanlike apparitions with limbs billowing as though caught on a breeze. Several sculptures of faces are covered with rainbow paint that appears frozen in mid-drip, like melting ice cream.
While Crosswell’s figures are colourfully appealing, they remain at the edge of the unfamiliar, creating a visual tension that hints at darkness and uncertainty.
In the artist statement for Anonymous Souls, Crosswell describes his work as “spontaneous and unpredictable.” Yet amongst the chaos of colour and line, there remains a refined containment that casts these figures into strangely sublime forms.