Alfred D. Crimi (1900-1994)

IMG_1991Alfred D. Crimi (1900-1994). Spaces and Planes, #1c.1950. Oil on canvas, 24 x 34 inches. Signed lower right. Provenance: St. Lawrence University collection, Canton NY.



Alfred D. Crimi was born in San Fratello, in the province of Messina, Sicily, on December 1, 1900. He was the eighth of eleven children born to Filadelfio Crimi and Maria di Giorgio. He attended school in San Fratello and at the age of eight his parents sent him for few hours after school to a furniture maker to learn a trade. In 1910, the Crimi family emigrated to America.

They embarked from the port of Palermo, and traveled steerage for thirteen days until they arrived in New York. For the first three years he lived and went to school in East Harlem. It was during this period that young Crimi was inspired to become an artist. He began his formal training in art at the National Academy of Design, New York City. In 1924, lived in Greenwich Village, renting a studio at West 14th Street. While there, he won the Suydon Gold and Silver Medals for drawing from life, in addition to other prizes for which he competed. Adding to his academic training, Crimi studied for one year at the Beaux Art, being honored with the Tiffany Fellowship. Crimi’s first one-man show in drawing was at
the Babcock Galleries in 1928. He then exhibited at various places including the National Academy of Design, the Sesqui Centennial in Philadelphia, and the Ferargil Galleries. In 1929, he returned to Italy to continue his art studies. In Rome, he attended the Scuola Preparatoria Alle Arti Ornamentali where he studied the art of fresco and Pompeian encoustic as well as perspective drawing. At the end of his studies, he received a diploma and was awarded first prize for fresco painting. After graduation, he left Rome by train, to return to San Fratello.

During his sojourn in San Fratello, he painted several canvases and during the remainder of time he visited the cathedrals of Palermo, Cefalu, and Monreale – masterpieces of Norman-Byzantine art. Many years later, the cathedral of Monreale inspired his painting “The Cathedral”, which is on display at the Griffiths Art Gallery, St. Lawrence University, Canton, N.Y.

Crimi returned to the United States in 1930 during the Great Depression. Crimi found a position in Portland, Oregon, as a consultant in color decoration for a firm in New York City. After several months in Oregon, he returned to New York and was engaged to teach art at the John Reed Art School. (When he found out that the School was a front for communist propaganda, he immediately resigned). During this time he occasionally visited his brother Fred and his wife Sara, who were musicians. Fred a violinist, and Sara, a pianist, frequently invite other musicians to their home for chamber music sessions. It was at one of these gatherings that crimi met his future wife, Mary Timpone, a pianist. Mary, whose family had emigrated from San Fratello, married Crimi in 1935.

On May 12, 1935, President Roosevelt signed the Federal Emergency Relief Act and on December of
the same year, through the newly organized Public Works of Art Project, he received a commission to paint a fresco in the Open Air Aquarium, Key West, Florida, which he completed in 1935. The fresco, with its vivid, vibrant colors, and one of the main attractions of the Aquarium, shows Key West fishermen unloading a catch of fish and a fishing sneak being docked.

In 1936, both Crimi and Mary were employed on the Works Projects Administration (W.P.A.) – Mary as a piano teacher, and Crimi as an artist in the mural division. His first assignment for which he competed, was to paint a fresco for the Medical Board Room at Harlem Hospital. The fresco was entitled “Modern Surgery and Anaesthesia”. Meanwhile, he entered a competition for the main Post Office building in Washington, D.C., and out of more than three hundred entries submitted, he was chosen as one of the six winners. The mural he completed “Parcel Post”, depicted a rural railroad station with a loading platform and men loading and unloading mail.

In 1935 he was invited to become a member of the National Society of Mural Painters. In 1936 the Society sponsored a nationwide competition for an eight hundred square feet mural for the chancel of the Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City. Crimi won the competition. The resulting mural, called “The Spreading of the Gospel,” played another role in Crimi’s life in 1946, when a new administration at Rutgers Presbyterian, ordered it destroyed. Crimi asked the officials of the church for the restoration or removal of the fresco to another place, but was refused. Crimi, then, sued the church and lost. Supreme Court Referee, Charles C. Lockwood, ruled out the work had been “sold unconditionally” in 1938.

For the years 1939 and 1940, under the WPA’s section of Painting and Sculpture, he was awarded through national competition two additional mural commissions: “Work, Religion and Education” for Northampton, Mass. Post Office, and “Anthony Wayne, General, Surveyor, and Gentleman Farmer”, for Wayne, Pennsylvania, Post Office. These murals were painted on oil canvas. In 1941 as the U.S. entered World War II, all federally sponsored art projects were terminated; consequently, Crimi was compelled to seek other employment.

During the war, he went to work for the Sperry Gyroscope, and was assigned in the Graphic Engineering Department. In this department he was part of a team of artists doing three-dimensional drawings of military weapons and other instruments from engineers’ blueprints; these illustrations were reproduced in military training manuals. Several of these drawings were also published by Life magazine, the London Illustrated Sunday News as well as other industrial publications. It was during this period that the genesis of a multi-dimensional painting began to take form. This method involves a combination of geometrical, transparent, overlapping plans; the light is emitted by the whole painting, different from the traditional method of light cast on subjects – the method of chiaroscuro painting. Crimi later perfected this method and used it in many of his paintings; he also wrote a book entitled The Art of Multi-Dimensional Painting.

After leaving Sperry, Crimi returned to full-time easel painting and watercolor. However, before he resumed his career as a creative artist, it was necessary that he reconcile his training in the classical tradition, which progressed from realism to expressionism, to abstractionism and to his new found method of multi-dimensional principles of color animation. The first important painting to come out of this period was the much acclaimed “Metropolis”, which is now in the Wisteriahurst Museum of Holyoke, MA. The Painting uses rectangular and abstract geometrical forms to represent a modern city.

In 1947, George Binet Gallery in New York sponsored a one-man show. The exhibition was a retrospective of the previous six years and demonstrated Crimi’s abundant capacity for handling pictorial problems masterfully. It showed how Crimi worked his way through strong-modeled, rounded forms, to pure abstraction. Among the painting presented were “My Window”, “Polyphony”, “The Unconguered”, and “Meucci”. As a result of this exhibition he was invited to teach at City College in the Adult Education Program, lecturing on paintings, watercolor, and perspective drawing. He also taught at the Pratt Institute in New York and Penn State University. Among the subjects covered in his classes were “Fresco Painting in Terms of the Present”, “The Making of Venetian Glass Mosaic”, “A Creative Approach to Color”. Crimi’s film “The Making and Fascination of Fresco Painting” was usually included in the curriculum.

During this time he became member of several art societies, including National Society of Mural Painters, Allied Artist of America, The Audubon Artists, The Federation of Modern Sculptors and Painters, and others.

In 1949, he held a successful one-man show at the Ferargil Galleries in New York City. The show received effusive praise from the critics; “Jewel-like” was the term used by a critic for several of his oil paintings. In 1956 he won The Emily Lowe Prize for his painting entitled “The Three Mary’s”, depicting the Annunciation. Also in 1956, he returned to the Village renting a new studio on 13th Street. The following year he held an exhibition at the World Eggleston Gallery on Madison Avenue. Among the paintings presented were: “Metropolis”, “Dead City”, “Out of Space-Out-of Time”, and “Rigging”. The critics gave good critical reviews, but were confused with the diversity of styles. Crimi was essentially
a mural painter who had turned to easel painting. However, he relentlessly experimented with new mediums, in order to more fully and originally express himself, going from realism to multi-dimensional techniques and to abstraction.

In 1959 he held a one-man exhibition at the Two Selected Artists Gallery in New York. This exhibition consisted mainly of works of the multi-dimensional style, and it included “The Cathedral”, which
had been inspired by the Byzantine Cathedral in Monreale (Sicily). In 1962 the Holyoke Museum in
that Massachusetts town sponsored a one-man exhibition of Crimi’s works. This was followed by an exhibition sponsored by Fordham University, New York in 1966, one at Temple Emeth in Teaneck, New Jersey, in 1969, and another in 1971 at the Ringwood Manor Museum, Ringwood, New Jersey. Moreover, he exhibited in major national and international group shows including New York City’s Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Chicago Art Institute, and The Cerneschi Art Gallery in Paris. In 1961 he was invited to participate in the Prima Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Sacra in Trieste, Italy, and in 1972 at the Cerneschi Art Gallery of Paris. He served during the years 1958-1961 with the Art Commission of the City of New York. When his three years term expired he returned to mural work while continuing easel painting. During the next ten years he was engaged by the Board of Education to execute five Venetian glass mosaics in New York City Schools – including those of Adlai Stevenson High School, Albert Einstein Jr. High School, and Public School 377.

Crimi was the recipient of more than forty awards from numerous art organizations. His articles on fresco painting, mosaics, and the multi-dimensional principle of color animation, appeared in American Artist, Today’s Art, Liturgical Art, and the Book of Knowledge.

After 18 years, he had to vacate the studio at West 13th Street, New York City. He rented another studio on West 4th Street, but left in 1978, after a 1976 flood that damaged several of his paintings and led to litigation against the landlord, he left.

His last one-man exhibition was sponsored by the Ulrich Museum of Wichita State University and featured predominantly his multi-dimensional paintings. Simultaneously, he received first prize in graphics for his famous “Mediterraneum Noon” from an exhibition sponsored by the Associated Galleries of West New York.

During the early 1980s the Crimis moved to a new apartment near the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, New York, where Alfred Crimi expanded his artistic skills yet again, doing a series of watercolors of the garden. Crimi died on January 7, 1994.