Arts » Visual Arts

The film noir world of Joseph Crone



At 5:35 p.m. on Nov. 26, 2013, Joseph Crone walks into the IUPUI University Library. He's carrying his art kit in a large briefcase. In his Stafford cabbie hat and trimmed beard, he looks like a character out of his drawings. It's no accident: He sometimes takes photos of himself as reference for his artwork. He heads straight for the third floor, finds a quiet corner and sets up his portable studio in a study carrel.

Before he sits down to work, he sets up a portable lamp. He hates the library's ubiquitous fluorescent bulbs and the cold, stingy light they give off. Then he removes from his briefcase a clear Plexiglas sheet overlaying a white thermoplastic board. Sandwiched between them is an uncompleted colored pencil on paper drawing of a splayed out dude, murdered, wearing a trench coat.

This work is a departure for Crone, in terms of both style and media. It's the final installment of a series of colored pencil on paper works, drawn in a comic book style, to be displayed in a show at the Indianapolis Art Center in a group show, Double Vision, through Feb. 2.

Now Crone pulls out a black and white photograph of a woman clad in underwear and an unbuttoned raincoat. She's leaning on the railing of a fire escape at night. She has in one hand her high heel shoes, a briefcase in the other. The model is a longtime friend. Crone took the digitally-manipulated photo with his Nikon camera.

There's one more item in the briefcase: a sheet of Dura-Lar semi-translucent polyester film, on which Crone is drawing, in Faber-Castell black pencil, a piece inspired by the aforementioned photo. When it's finished, the face of the woman on the Dura-Lar will look more realistic in some respects than the digital photograph of the camera-flash-bathed face.

For Crone, the pencil is a more subtle instrument than the camera lens. It would be reductive to call his work photorealistic: expressionistic touches add layers of psychological complexity that couldn't be registered by any image sensor.

Crone is working on two pieces — and two shows — at once. This drawing on the woman on a fire escape is the fourth and final panel for a series of four works that must be shipped off on Dec. 20, 2013, to Arcadia Contemporary, a Manhattan-based gallery that will display his work at the LA Art Show in January. This will be Crone's biggest opportunity so far to make a splash on the national level.

Assuming, of course, that he gets everything done on time.

Joseph Crone works into the night at IUPUI University Library. - MICHELLE CRAIG
  • Michelle Craig
  • Joseph Crone works into the night at IUPUI University Library.

Between two films

Billed as "the most diverse art show in the world," the LA Art Show opens January 15 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Actor Tim Robbins will be present as an "Art Ambassador," alongside the world's most prominent art collectors.

It's no accident that Crone will be showing work here. It's because of his superb rendering ability using novel materials — film noir characterizations and settings — for which Crone has become known in the art world.

You may have seen his solo show at Wug Laku's Studio and Garage in December 2011, or his Stutz show in collaboration with sculptor Emily Budd in September 2012. He won the Stutz Artist Association Residency for 2011-2012, received the Robert Beckmann Emerging Artist Fellowship, and his work has been featured in numerous Indy-area group shows.

He's also received acclaim well beyond the municipal boundaries of Indianapolis. The list of awards and spreads featuring his work by art magazines goes on and on. Perhaps most significantly, however, was a recent invitation to write a feature for Colored Pencil Magazine.

Editor-in-Chief Sally Ford calls Crone "a pioneer" in his use of acetate and Dura-Lar as support mediums for his drawings.

"Joseph Crone was first featured in our March 2012 issue and caused quite a stir with his signature style of art and incited many questions into his work process," says Ford. "We invited Joseph to help answer these inquiries in an article published in our July 2013 issue called "Between Two Films" as an intro to working on film and Dura-Lar surfaces. As a result, we have seen an increase of amazing artwork created on these surfaces, in no small part due to the inspiration caused by the work of Joseph Crone."

Renown in the art world doesn't necessarily entail the financial success needed to sustain a career as an independent, working artist. Crone's well-deserved recognition doesn't change the fact that he currently works 30 hours as a server in two local restaurants to supplement his family's income.

Take this particular day (Nov. 26, 2013) for example. Crone woke at about 7 a.m. and made breakfast for his family after going to bed at 1 a.m. the previous morning. Crone managed to get a little drawing in before working the lunchtime rush at MacNiven's on Mass Ave. Then he came home at 3:30 p.m. and took care of Jasper, the two-year-old child of Crone and his girlfriend, Britt Leiendecker, who live together.

Crone loves playing with his son, and doesn't try to multitask while taking care of him. Considering the extremely delicate nature of Crone's work that would be a disaster.

He splits child rearing with Leiendecker who, because of her enrollment in the Physical Therapy Assistant program at Ivy Tech, has significant time demands as well. So if Crone stays up until 3 a.m. drawing, as he often does, and Jasper wakes at 4:30 a.m. — and it's his turn to take care of the little dude — then, so much for sleeping.

But, fortunately Crone got what passes (for him) for a full night's sleep last night — six hours — so he's only mildly groggy by the time he sits down in his carrel at the IUPUI University Library.

"Room with a View" (2013)
  • "Room with a View" (2013)

Plug and chug

It's 5:50 p.m. Crone has his array of pencils, erasers, and sharpeners at the ready, electronica piping into his ears. He sets to work drawing with short, circular strokes, filling in the outlines of the drawing on the Dura-Lar. It's a thirsty material, drinking up the carbon from his pencil and demanding patience in order to get the right shade on the grayscale. Both the media and method of composition are demanding in terms of time commitment: Crone estimates that he spends 100 hours composing on each 8½ x 12 stretch of Dura-Lar.

Why 100 hours? Well, drawing at Crone's level is a very time-intensive process: it's not just plug and chug. First step: he draws the outline of the figure based on his photograph. Next, he'll spend a lot of his time filling that outline in with the appropriate shading.

There are certain crucial points where there is even less room for error than usual, such as in the composition of facial features. Things don't always go perfectly, so it helps to have the feedback of another expert eye at this stage. In fact, he usually waits until he gets home for these crucial details (more about that later).

Finally, after the composition in pencil is finished on one side — remember that the Dura-Lar film on which he's drawing is semi-translucent — he will darken up areas, by drawing on the opposite side so that light doesn't penetrate through.

With so much on the line, there's not a second to waste. Success at the LA Art Show, after all, just might mean representation — and a good chance of making it as a self-supporting artist.

Save for toilet breaks, and a pause at 10 p.m. to chug down a 5-Hour Energy Shot, Crone won't leave his chair until the library closes at midnight.


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