Artist and Musician Maryrose Crook Discusses “Nigredo”

Posted by


Multimedia artist and musician Maryrose Crook will be showing a new body of work titled Nigredo at La Luz de Jesus, in a five person show also featuring Juan Muniz, Jasmine Worth, Michael Murphy, and Bunnie Reiss, opening August 5 from 8-11 PM, and remaining on display through August 28.

Maryrose Crook is a self-taught New Zealand artist drawing on traditions of surrealism, still life and folk art, and a musician, performing and recording along with husband Brian Crook, as The Renderers . Maryrose has been exhibiting in public and private spaces since 1996, and has work held in collections in New Zealand, the USA, Germany and Australia. She has been the recipient of the Wallace Development Award, one of New Zealand’s most prestigious art awards, and has undertaken numerous artist residencies. She is currently based in Joshua Tree, California, in the Mojave Desert.


Maryrose Crook – Nigredo, oil on canvas, 54×60 in

You’ve had a successful career in New Zealand, before you came to the states.

I started quite late in life, I didn’t start painting until I was 39. I’d always wanted to paint, I just never got around to doing it. As a kid I drew obsessively but never thought I’d be any good. My husband went to art school and I knew he had a really good eye so one day I said to him will you help me paint a face? He helped me mix the paint and showed me where it should be shaded for the light. I went through a few years struggling to teach myself and he used to walk in and go “are you looking, do you realize where the light is coming from?” because I wanted things to be representational it was the way I wanted to go. Although I needed to work on my technique, all of the years I’d spent writing lyrics and music in the Renderers fed into my imagery and so the narratives of the paintings seemed to spring out reasonably easily, in fact it was harder to shut my brain out and make them more unconsciously…. Since I was doing this for myself I was surprised at first that other people were interested in them, and it wasn’t very long before I started showing in New Zealand.

I’ve also shown in China, and Berlin, I had a residency in China; I won an award called The Wallace in New Zealand and they had this thing where they send you away on an international residency, and I chose to go to Bejing, something I’d never done before. We were there for three months as a family. I had a little exhibition there, it was good. I went to Berlin for eight months and I exhibited there, in fact I showed at the Mary Karnowsky gallery in Berlin.

Did the residencies in other countries change the direction of your art, and how so?

Yes, China really influenced me. It was just so psychedelic, Chinese art is psychedelic, but also the places, it’s weird, it can be quite bleak but then it can be quite beautiful, it’s hard to explain. It was like a sea of consciousness, so many people, and the sense of being submerged in that, touching others in ways other than language, so the interactions were both clumsier and more subtle, somehow.

Maryrose Crook – She of the Sea, oil on canvas, 36×54 in.

Maryrose Crook – She of the Sea, oil on canvas, 36×54 in.

How did it change your approach?

It made me feel freer. It made me feel like anything goes, really. I was sort of on a trajectory, I was already painting things like dresses, as almost landscapes, before that, but I just felt loosened up by China. It was also nice to be out in the wider world, I had wanted very much to really explore Europe as so much of the art I love, medieval etc, is from there, but we had to go back to New Zealand because financially things, 2009 was such a bad year, we ran out of money, and came back. New Zealand is a gorgeous country, but I felt like I wanted to see more of the world, and then the earthquakes hit in Christchurch and it was really quite freaky, it destroyed the town, 180 people died, it was the reason we left, my gallery was destroyed, and all the venues we played in came down; actually our amplifiers were trapped in one of them for six months…since we’d played the night before the February quake….and then we came to another fault-line…

What’s the concept of your new body of work that you will be displaying at La Luz de Jesus?

I’m calling it Nigredo which is a word that describes a state of a being in Alchemy, being the blackness you have to create as an alchemist, you have to burn everything till it’s completely black before you can transmute it, and of course there’s all this psychological stuff about it but I quite like the historical alchemical, the old fashioned Alchemy thing so Nigredo is the blackest of the black, and the next stage is Albedo which is the whitest of the white.

The reason I am interested in Nigredo as a stage of alchemical transformation is that it does feel as if the world is continually lurching into darkness, a perpetual state of Nigredo, but unfortunately never moving into Albedo, or whiteness, the stage beyond which transmutation is possible. On a personal level coming to the desert has moved me through a very dark stage of my life, the desert is acting on me in a very deep way that I find hard to put into words.

Nigredo is the name of the raven dress. And, the raven dress was based on… I came home one day and there was a dead raven across the street, underneath these pinon pine trees, and there were two ravens standing on either side of it, like sentries, and it was an amazing site, they kept tapping it with their beaks and every now and again they’d lift off and fly around our house crying and then go back and stand by the dead raven. It was like a funeral, it was the most amazing thing. And since then, I’ve been planning to paint a raven funeral dress.

Maryrose Crook – Virgin Queen-oil on canvas, 36×40 in

Maryrose Crook – Virgin Queen-oil on canvas, 36×40 in

Do you know Hey Magazine? It’s a French magazine based in Paris, they did an article on me in 2014, and they got hold of me when I just started working on this show; I had two weeks to do two paintings for them and they wanted them to be dresses, I started the “Virgin Queen” and “Nigredo”, it was a real rush, because usually they can take months to finish, much of which is agonizing about concepts and doing reference drawing, but there was no time for that, as Hey wanted to include them in their Earth Charter issue. Fortunately I had been incubating the ideas for quite a while but it was a struggle and eventually they gave me a bit more time. The Earth Charter is a document written in the ’70s about how we should care for life, of all kinds, on the planet, it’s extremely beautiful. Those two paintings are based on that.

How did you end up in the desert?

We toured all over the outside of the country playing music, and, people would invite us to stay (in their homes) and we were offered to house-sit at Rimrock, we fell in love with the desert, it’s really amazing, just the whole crazy sense of what’s out there. The light is great for painting.


Leave a Reply