Looking Back... Adrienne Crombie... The Artist Behind the Cover (from the 32nd edition)

I arrived at the appointed hour, planned so Adrienne Crombie would have a break between her art class and our meeting. Her two students were still at work, absorbed in their exercise long after the class was to have ended, which gave me an opportunity to look around. Two tall windows overlooking Frenchtown, New Jersey, give the small studio good light and the street scene offers diversion when it is needed.

My eyes fixed on the painting hanging between the windows. Portrait of Bob and Putput, shown on the following page, raises intense curiosity: What are the man and the cat looking at? When I asked later who had influenced her work she answered, Vermeer and Caravaggio. Vermeer, of course! In Bob and Putput, as in so many of Vermeer's paintings, the emotionally charged eyes beg the viewer to see what they see. We can surmise, but can never see beyond the canvas.

Sidesaddle Portrait
Sidesaddle Portrait, Water-based oil on canvas, H. 48 x W. 32 inches.

Sitting down after the students left we talked about the area and her childhood. Adrienne calls Hunterdon County home and has always loved Frenchtown. She began drawing as a child and says there was never any question about becoming an artist, that it was art that always won her approval. She describes her training as empirical but quickly adds that she is not self-taught. A teacher herself, and judging from the enthusiasm of the students I met, a good one, she admits with some irony to having always had a prejudice about art teachers, the "those who can do..." syndrome.

Consummate Oysters
Consummate Oysters
, oil on linen, H. 30 x W. 34 inches.

In high school she took classes in Flemington from Leo Russell, who she remembers as teaching figure drawing in an extraordinary way and instilling in her his dictum that mastering the human form is the foundation for good draftsmanship. Later studies at New York's School of Visual Arts and the San Francisco Art Institute brought her to the juncture, of art and commerce. She had worked hard, learned to apply old master techniques to her painting, and honed her draftsmanship. She was living in New York and it was time to use her skills to make money. When attempts to break into illustration failed she turned to animal portraits and succeeded. She was finally making money but continued to broaden her bases learning to execute faux finishes and trompe l'oeil in acrylic. When she began to get commissions for murals Adrienne knew she had found her niche.
Suddenly, just as her career was taking off, Adrienne found herself in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital totally paralyzed by Guilliame Barre Syndrome. Miraculously, she walked out of the hospital in two months and returned to Hunterdon to be nursed to full recovery by her parents.

Today Adrienne is a successful self-employed muralist, faux finish designer, trompe l'oeil decorative painter, and portrait artist, and still finds time for her own personal vision, small canvases she calls "erotic still lifes."

Two recent murals are close to her heart. The Secret Garden, painted in July 1998, fulfilled a desire to do something public for Frenchtown, a place she had always loved and which became her home when, in her words, "she had her life back." In 2000, Milford Mural, below, gave Adrienne an opportunity to interact with a whole community. Working with the Milford Guild, she raised the funds for the mural from the entire community and from the sale of prints of the artwork. In the end, there was enough to pay for both the mural and its lighting. The success of the Milford print prompted Adrienne to do others. The cover painting, Sidesaddle Portrait, will be available this summer.

Portrait of Bob and Putput
Portrait of Bob and Putput
, oil and silver leaf on panel, H. 30 x W. 22 inches.

You can see her work on the web at www.muralsbyadrienne.com, at Riverbank Arts in Stockton, New Jersey, and the murals by visiting Milford and Frenchtown, New Jersey.

Milford Mural
Milford Mural, acrylic on cement, H. 10 x W. 20 feet.


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