In Crotty’s drawing, he has reversed the intuitive behavior of matter. To human eyes, outer space is always the backdrop, the emptiness against which focal points are determined. But in Hale Bopp Over Acid Canyon the comet becomes negative space, and the dark sky is filled with the artist’s residual ink. Crotty circumscribes the comet and accompanying stars, defining them through the absence of ballpoint pen marks. Instead of amenably fading into the background, Crotty’s empty spaces push forward, asserting presence amidst the tightly controlled marks of a concentrated scribble. At the bottom of the drawing, that darkness—not the uniform jet-black of comic books but the gradated expanse visible in every night’s sky—collides into teeming handwritten reiterations of the drawing’s title. Whether intended as a continuation of space or an indicator of the transition to land, this textual element corroborates the work’s subjective existence: this is not a photograph of the comet, but a record of it translated by the idiosyncratic human observer.
Crotty is well aware that his drawings could hardly serve astronomers attempting elaborate calculations. He has explained, “At some point I just start putting stars in. It goes from being ardently empirical to something else: it’s not so much that these drawings have a foundation in reality as that they have an experience in reality.”2 David Frankel aptly summarizes Crotty’s approach as “a humanistic version of science, perhaps informed by the Victorian gentleman astronomer.”3 Not only is the artist’s approach humanistic—in the sense that he emphasizes the perception of astral events over the gathering of quantifiable data—but his naturalist’s interests provide the occasion for philosophical ruminations.