By Randall Jobe
If you are a collector of celebrity signatures you will be hard pressed to top those of local artist, Larry Crawford. He not only has dozens of autographs, but also has them on a painting he has rendered of each that has been published as a book by Kallisto Gaia Press in Austin, Texas titled Backstage Access: The Celebrity Paintings of Larry Crawford. Each includes a description of how he managed to get them to sign as told to writer Mary Day Long. Inclusions in the book are varied, a delightful blend of music, political and comedy icons from Cher to Hilary Clinton to Cheech Marin. You’ll be sure to find many who will appeal to your tastes.
Works that include a span from 1985 to 2020, the stories are as fascinating as his incredible paintings. Crawford managed backstage access often despite impossible odds maneuvering security guards and police officers. Even under their watchful gazes he would often catch the eye of the celebrity as he struggled to carry two large paintings of them. Crawford used the moment to move to the stage and manage a signature; one was presented to the star and one was kept for the artist’s collection.
Shortly after presenting his likeness to Bill Clinton, Crawford received a call from The White House. They were inquiring as to the value of the painting. President Clinton could only accept a certain monetary value of gifts. He had decided to take it when he left the White House to hang in his home. Quite the accomplishment for a person born in Texas who moved to Louisiana, 45 miles from the nearest town. But Crawford, receiving no support from his parents who thought it a total waste of time, used the time creating his art. Working on his self-taught techniques, he developed his talent through sheer determination, and two loving aunts who encouraged him and bought him art supplies.
Crawford also honors, with a loving credit, his partner of 42 years who passed away in 2021, Michael Allen Jarrett. In Crawford’s words, “He allowed me to be me — not always understanding, but always supportive. He showed me the world.”
Crawford’s work extends beyond celebrity portraits with drastically diverse subject matter. All are painstakingly executed; portraits and abstracts with equal proficiency. He is quick to donate art to fundraising efforts including AIDS Foundation Houston and Health Care for the Homeless. His affable personality is infectious and explains a lot about how gains access to have his portraits.
When questioned about favorite celebrities he has met, Sean Penn is immediately mentioned. As to the worst, well, it may come as a surprise to many. But, when preparing to meet Jerry Lewis, he witnessed an incident that showed the “non-public personae” of the star. You’ll need to read the book for this “gem” nestled in the book’s treasure chest.
What’s next for Crawford? Well, with over 60 celebrity portraits in his collection to date, a second book seems inevitable.
Larry Crawford’s book signings and art shows
October 23, 3-5 p.m.: Urban Eats, 3414 Washington Avenue. Larry Crawford Art Display and Sale, ongoing.
October 24: Riva’s Italian Restaurant, 1117 Missouri Street.