Island Art: Crociani for life
By Michael Singman-Aste
Erin Crociani, aka “Puffy Woodson,” exhibits acrylic and watercolor paintings of voluptuous models from cigarette cards alongside skeletal men and women inspired by Día de los Muertos. Connecting the two, a skull’s spiraling watch-face eyes witness the passage of time in “Time Stopper (2012).”
The artist herself is unsure of the connection between these cigarette women and Day of the Dead images. She writes in her statement that it is “an apocalyptic twist of the future with portraits of Harlots from the past, and how they meet up. I’m not sure, but it just works.” And it does work. These women are in their prime, lovers at the height of their beauty. But in the end — whether it’s the relentless march of time or the apocalypse (or lung cancer) — we are all gonna die.
She doesn’t know what form an apocalypse would take, but as her friend says to her, “when 2012 comes you better take your baby and run … to the forest.” In “Time Stopper (2012)” she envisions running through a forest of veins. A ghost moth alights on a skull, perhaps representing the last living thing on Earth, or faint hope, the beginning of life.
Crociani is not afraid of death, but fascinated by it. That and her Hispanic culture inspired the Day of the Dead portraits. Rather than being morbid, she finds it comforting “dealing with death and what happens next.” Her work is not about death, but an affirmation of life.
This Oakland-based artist puts her work out there, exhibiting not only in Alameda but Oakland and Berkeley, but she herself lurks in the shadows and avoids the limelight. She’s a shy person who likes not being noticed, and prefers being a fly on the wall at her own receptions, eavesdropping for honest reactions to her work rather than basking in attention.
Several of the pieces in the show, including the steampunk “Avian’s Key” and one of the three “Family Portraits,” are actually self-portraits, although not labeled as such. On the other hand, her mixed-media “Self-portrait in Mexico” features hearts, skulls, crescent moons and bat wings, but without her actual, literal image.
The artist is barely visible on her own website. There’s a rule of thumb that your website is your name, but you won’t find an ErinCrociani.com. Rather, visit PuffyWoodson.com for “Paintings by Crociani and Art by Puffy Woodson.” (That’s the name of her first pet + the street she grew up on. You know, her p*rno name.) A very brief bio is hidden under her “Tat 2 paintings.”
Crociani’s work speaks for itself, showing both meticulous attention to detail and willingness to tackle ambitious vistas.
Her 16-inch-by-20-inch watercolor “Day of the Dead Girl with Butterflies” is framed by nearly forty handmade butterflies composed of scrap pieces of discarded wood, glued together over a three-day period when she was recovering from foot surgery.
“Time Keeper” is huge, two 72-inch-by-48-inch canvases recreating a vision she had at a rock concert, and it took four years to complete. In it a dragon emerges from a pagoda and vomits koi fish and a medallion bearing the inscription “CROCIANI FOR LIFE” (as well as some donuts and a half-eaten cookie), while that same timepiece dangles from the beak of a two-headed peacock.
Crociani finds painting to be therapeutic in dealing with stages of life besides death, including getting married and becoming a parent. The purging in this work symbolizes the release of her conceptions of who she thought she was, reinventing herself after becoming a wife and mother. “A new person, but still being me. I will always be Erin Crociani,” she said.
Crociani’s solo exhibit continues through September 7 at Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden, 1223 Park Street. Their phone number is 865-2385. Hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.