East of the River Artist Spotlight: Sheila Crider

By Phil Hutinet on December 18, 2014
Sheila Crider at the dedication of Here to here at St. Elizabeth's East. Photo courtesy DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
Sheila Crider at the dedication of Here to Here at St. Elizabeth’s East. Photo courtesy DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

With a solo exhibition currently on view at Honfleur Gallery and the dedication of a major public art installation at Saint Elizabeth’s East Campus, the fall of 2014 marks a major milestone for artist Sheila Crider’s career.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, Crider completed a Bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, concentrating on Government Philosophy and Afro-American studies. The interdisciplinary focus of her studies laid the groundwork for her career as a writer, poet and eventually as an artist as Crider moves fluidly between different forms of creative expression.

The wellspring for Crider’s artistic expression comes from her fascination and deep connection with language. Crider began her creative journey as a poet, belonging to Free DC, a writers’ workshop and collaborative. In 1979, the collaborative published an anthology of work, regrouping ten DC-based poets including Crider, Jonetta Barras, Gladys Lee, Samuel Johnson (Kwame) and Greg Tate.

A student exhibition at the Corcoran titled Literary Art led Crider to publish The Use of Language as Art in 1980 and inspired her to begin using abstract art to “write.”

From 1985 to 1991, Crider lived in Bordeaux, France. During this time, while able to speak French, Crider struggled to surmount the challenges of writing in a foreign tongue leading her self-expression became more visual. In France, Crider mounted several interdisciplinary projects and exhibited a bourgeoning body of work.

Upon returning to DC in the early 1990s, Crider began expressing herself exclusively through fine art. She focused her attention on “abstract expressionism and minimalism, studying the presentation of artists like Sam Gilliam […] along with the functionality of art objects and natural forms in eastern aesthetics. “

While mostly self-taught, in 1999, Crider spent three months studying Sumi-e painting with Japanese painter Kohi Takagaki in Aioi, Gifu Prefecture in central Honshu. Drawn to Japanese form, this period of study would bring a new perspective to her aesthetic. In particular, Japanese art places great emphasis on the line. This artistic concept would later resurface in Crider’s latest public art project, Here to Here.

By 2000, Crider began to understand her work within the framework of a greater narrative of expression in which she seeks to synthesize her connection to African, American and Asian art. When asked to describe her work, Crider refers to it as Blackstraction. Used as a noun, it signifies “the objectification of painting; an emotive non-representational work of art stressing formal internal relationships using African/American/Asian art practices at times employing craft techniques and three dimensional presentation.” As a transitive verb it signifies “to make markings with color on diverse surfaces that relate to each other and their environment in two and three dimensions.”

Currently on view at Honfleur gallery through December 19, Crider’s solo exhibition Volume introduces audiences to a series of sculptural paintings and monotypes. According to Crider, for painting to remain relevant in the 21st century, it must entertain the viewer. First and foremost, the viewer must be active. The painter entertains the viewer by mentally stimulating how the viewer sees the work. Crider’s work in Volume hangs on two-sided bands of paper, engaging the viewer via its physicality. Crider entertains the viewer with her work’s ever changing perspective which is dependent on which angle one sees the painting. While sculptural in appearance, in Volume, Crider exhibits two-dimensional work painted on a two-sided canvas.

Here to Here installation on St. Elizabeth's East Campus. Photo Credit: Greg Staley Photography.
Here to Here installation on St. Elizabeth’s East Campus. Photo Credit: Greg Staley Photography.

In contrast to the two-dimensionality of her work in Volume, Crider created a series of large three dimensional sculptures for Here to Here, a public art piece selected by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities as a “way finder” at Saint Elizabeth’s East Campus. From a “way finding” perspective, the angles in Here to Here guide visitors from the campus’ entrance to the newly constructed Gateway Pavilion.

Here to Here, Crider’s first public art piece, draws inspiration from the power of the line and from a year-long artist residency at the Saint Elizabeth’s Campus. Consisting of 24 angles, in eight different colors applied with automotive paint on aluminum and spread over 1,000 feet, the angles tilt at three different degrees—at 65, 80 and 90. During her residency, Crider took a series of pictures of the campus buildings, traced the roof lines with a marker, ultimately finding three different shapes from which to design her angled sculptures in Here to Here.

Often, during course of erecting public art installations, unforeseen elements come up that can change the scope of a project. Crider had envisioned the angles rising directly out of the ground. However, the aesthetic of the piece had to be altered slightly, placing each angle on 30 inch concrete plinths, to protect the sculptures’ paint from weed-whackers and lawn mowers!

Sheila Crider currently lives in Congress Heights where she practices her oeuvre.



Honfleur Gallery is located at Good Hope Road SE. Check with the gallery for winter hours online at www.honfleurgallery.com or call the gallery at 202.365.8392

Saint Elizabeth’s East Campus is located at 1100 Alabama Avenue SE. Visit their website at www.stelizabethseast.com