Michael Crespo (1947–2010) was born in New Orleans but spent much of his life in Baton Rouge. Crespo earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Louisiana State University (LSU) in 1968 before attending City University in New York, where he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1970. Like many artists, Crespo accepted a job teaching after graduation. For nearly forty years he delighted in teaching LSU students and made a lasting impression on the development of the School of Art, where he served as director from 1990–1996, interim director from 2002–2004, and was awarded the university’s Distinguished Faculty Award in 1999.
An avid reader of philosophy, poetry, and the classics, Crespo was continually inspired by the symbolism and meanings found in ancient myths and stories of magic. Especially fond of the symbolism and techniques of the Italian Renaissance, he adapted these elements into his body of work. Crespo developed his own vocabulary of symbols and motifs, which held meaning for him but were meant to be interpreted by the viewer based on their own experiences. He drew attention to these elements by employing darkened backgrounds and lighting only the central figures. This use of chiaroscuro, Italian for “lightdark,” was a technique employed by artists of the Italian Renaissance to produce a dramatic effect and to direct the eye of the viewer across the painting.
Drawn from the stories of mythology, Acteon’s Dream depicts a stag standing amid four moons, each in a different phase. In Greek mythology, Acteon suffered the wrath of Artemis after he accidentally caught sight of the goddess bathing. Artemis turned Acteon into a stag and he was hunted by his own dogs. In Crespo’s painting, the hunter has become the hunted. Serenely facing the viewer, the stag appears heroic and ready to accept his fate.
Michael Crespo, Acteon’s Dream, 2008. Oil on linen, 60 x 72 inches. Gift of the artist. Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection, 2008.001.001
Crespo was married to Libby Johnson, a Baton Rouge painter whose work is also held in LASM’s permanent collection, for many years.