From The Archives — Eye On The Locals: William Glen Crooks is a professional artist in Imperial Beach whose work has appeared in galleries throughout San Diego. His art represents the best of realism and he often depicts images of where he lives: the South Bay.
“The suburbs with their front yards, lawn furniture, and porches have shown me a communal intimacy.”
Glen Crooks was born in 1952. His father was from Ohio and joined the Navy during WWII. He married in the 1940’s and Crooks still remembers living in Japan when he was 3 years old. The next year, his parents settled in Imperial Beach and never left.
He likes to sign his full name William Glen Crooks on his paintings because it’s just like his father’s name who encouraged him to be an artist.
Crooks went to Central Elementary School and Mar Vista High School. After that, he decided he wasn’t going to let anyone hold a grade over his head so although he studied at SDSU, he would only audit the classes. In the end, the degree didn’t matter.
An Artist Is Born
Glen knew he was going to be an artist from the time he was in second grade. The first thing he did that really distinguished what he was doing as art was that he learned to draw Fred Flintstone. From then on, it was George Jetson, Spider Man, Marble Comics. Then there was Michelangelo and Rembrandt. He started copying ‘the greats’ from high school onward.
He also spent many of his days with a drawing tablet, getting on a bus and going to Balboa Park. While on the bus and in the park, he would draw. Then he would return home and create paintings from the drawings. He covered an enormous amount of ground that way, creating thousands of drawings and then hundreds of paintings.
To get better, he made a phone call to Professor Bill Bound at SDSU and asked if he could start auditing painting classes. They had a lively four hour conversation over the phone. For several years thereafter Crooks would show up at SDSU by 6 a.m. and have a painting finished by the time the Professor showed up. Then he would be critiqued. It was excellent training and SDSU liked him enough that they sent him on a scholarship to Europe with Professor Bound. He went to London, Paris, Florence and Rome. He liked that experience so much that he earned some money doing various odd-jobs and returned to Europe for 6 months.
Tragedy Gave Birth To Genius
Unfortunately, Crooks’ mother was afflicted with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He often had to return home to Imperial Beach to take care of her. His father would care for his wife during the day. Glen then would take over at night. He set up a bed in the garage and stayed up all night painting while making sure his mother didn’t run out of the house naked. His mother would sometimes stay up weeks without any sleep.
“A thing that I thought was just awful turned out to give me a long gestation period,” Crooks said.
It gave him time to pull a lot of technical aspects together and learn an enormous amount. He also covered a huge amount of canvas. Then, during the early 1980’s he joined galleries and began successfully selling his paintings.
His dad died of a heart attack at age 63 in 1984. His mother died in 1997. Glen attributes their death to cigarette smoking. Crooks, on the other hand, spent most of his life as a serious artist, casting things like cigarettes, drugs and drinking aside.
His Other Half
Crooks continues to live in the house where he was raised. In 1986, already a rather “old man”, he married Lores Marlynn Smith, also known as Marti. She was from Kansas and, as a woman in those days, she was taught to be a secretary. She also had dreams of getting out, so she packed her bags one day and hitchhiked to Arizona.
She was always being picked up by truck drivers who would tell her, “Young lady, you shouldn’t be doing this.”
She didn’t like Arizona and left to San Diego. Here she worked at KPBS and later got her Master’s in Elementary Education. Marti currently teaches first grade at Hilltop Elementary School.
Crooks knew most women were going to expect him to get a non-artistic job. Marti, on the other hand, told him, “I’ll leave you if you get a job.”
Thanks Marti! That benefitted us all.
He’s captivated by light
I asked Crooks why he depicted the South Bay so often.
He said, “I painted the South Bay a lot because I’m just here, but I really do believe it’s a remarkably beautiful place in a very simple way. The light is very delicate in a way that Coronado has a little of and Mexico has a little of. You go too far South and it gets too hard, you go too far North and it gets too bleh. Right along here, just this little place, in my opinion, sparkles and it does this all year round.”
Although Crooks does water colors and pastels, he prefers oil paintings, especially on very large canvas.
He has done plein-air painting over at Suzie’s Farms, but funny enough initially they had to make him stop, explaining that they didn’t have insurance for him and they would be liable if something happened. Two years later, they called Crooks and said they had put him on their insurance, so he was free to come to the property at any time and paint. By then, however, his doctor said he suffered from sun damage issues and he couldn’t go out to do anything but photograph.
He’s painted nature scenes over by the Tijuana River Valley. He’s painted Palm Avenue, the Salt Works and San Diego Bay. He’s even painted a Jack N A Box during a morning fog, but he insists nobody is going to buy that. (Personally, I like it.)
U.S.-Mexico Border Paintings
Today in Otay Mesa, warehouses line up next to the U.S.-Mexico boundary line, but this area used to be undeveloped. Crooks would go out there to watch the sunset so he could understand how the sunset works. Once he was plein-air painting when he heard ba-ba-ing noises coming from the distance. Suddenly, a whole herd of goats came up over the hillside. Turns out, they used to have a lot of shepherds herding goats and sheep here. Crooks asked if he could take a picture of the sheepherders and thereafter he painted them.
Another smaller painting shows a church in 1996 on the Mexican side near the Tijuana River Valley. Crooks would paint there also and see children running back and forth between the line.