One of our 2017 Artists to Watch, Mutsu Crispin paralyzes bouncing balls and brings devilish fairy tales to life.
“My heroes have always been artists who reinvent themselves every few years,” says Brattleboro, Vermont artist Mutsu Crispin. “I love it when an artist goes through a transformation repeatedly. Picasso. Miles Davis. Someone who isn’t afraid to step out of their norm and become something new.“
Mutsu Crispin is also the pseudonym of John DiGeorge, a bouncing, 46-year-old dervish of an artist who is at times a costume designer, puppeteer, oneiric film instructor, filmmaker, choreographer, and, currently, a classic visual artist. Mostly though, Crispin is an explorer interested in transformation.
Crispin grew up in Marietta, Georgia, and then attended Harvard, where, he says, “they’d just hand you a camera and tell you to go make something.” After Harvard, Crispin moved to New York City, where he learned how to make movies, then to Brattleboro to begin work on Redbelly, a film written with his cousin Justin Allen. Redbelly is a freakishly old-world fairy tale, featuring a princess trapped in a stone tower, bereft of human contact. It also features a prince with an external glass stomach, born unable to use his mouth to speak, cry, or eat, who was captured by an opportunistic moonshiner who uses the glass stomach as a still.
“I’d been doing a lot of dream work,” Crispin explains. “I’d been delving deeply and consistently into my dream world. There were a lot of themes and images and interior dramas playing out in my dreams that a fairy tale would be an easy vehicle for. Redbelly (still in production) is very particular to Vermont, but not set in Vermont. It all grew out of the landscape. The stone tower. . .there’s stone walls everywhere. There’s also a monster in the movie. What’s the monster in the woods of Vermont? It’s a bear that carries winter in its belly. The prince gets stuck in his belly, and it’s the harshest winter imaginable. We filmed that sequence in a snowstorm in the White Mountains. The mythology is definitely grown out where we were when we conceived it.”
Crispin’s alternative project, Bouncy Ball Art, seems crafted by an entirely different artist. The series, which can be seen at the A.P.E. Ltd. Gallery in Northampton, Massachusetts March 8-April 2, is whimsical, bright, and playful. The constructions feature bouncy rubber balls pressed between plates of heavy plexiglass, then screwed together to hold them in place. The clue that links both pieces is an almost mythic reexamination of the fantastical aspects of childhood, never mind that the finished pieces look like massively constructed Hasbro Lite-Brite screen panels.
“There’s a lot of places these pieces go,” Crispin says. “The grids are pixelated. I grew up playing Atari, playing Nintendo. I was totally into video games—all those early video games like Super Mario Bros. All of these pieces are like the background of Zelda or Super Mario Bros. They’re also used to express the deepest impulses of things I’m exploring in my life.”
So where did the name Mutsu Crispin come from? DiGeorge used to spend summers working on a farm; he saw the words repeatedly on old apple crates, and they caught his imagination. “I’ve always felt a connection with Japanese words and filmmakers,” he explains. “I liked the juxtaposition of the Japanese word Mutsu with the English word Crispin. I came up with these two characters: Mutsu is an alien and Crispin is a monkey. They came together to form Mutsu Crispin, which is an apple, but also the name of my production company.
“I’ve always been caught by cultures where as an adult you name yourself,” he continues. “You go on a vision quest, and when you come back you name yourself. Sometimes at an art opening, someone will come up to me and ask, ‘Are you Mutsu Crispin?’ I really like that.”