Tom Cramer: “Continuum” at Laura Russo Gallery

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“Photosynthesis,” 2013, Oil and woodburning, 45″ x 24″
Photo: NessPace, Courtesy: Laura Russo Gallery

In interviews, the glass artist Richard Marquis often quips that his style is so eclectic, his exhibitions should be subtitled “A One-Person Group Show.” The same could have applied to Tom Cramer’s “Continuum,” a wildly heterogeneous grouping of imagery and media, which improbably but irrefutably cohered, thanks to what seemed a burgeoning impulse on the artist’s part toward visual economy. Of the two wood burnings, six pen-and-ink drawings, and 16 wood-relief paintings on display, the latter works were stylistically most similar to work Cramer has done in the past. Deeply carved wooden panels with vivid color pooled around islands of organic form, the paintings were often overlaid with metallic leaf, to luxuriant effect. In Gyrated (all 2013, except where noted) and Butterfly (2012), Cramer alternated lyrical lines with percussive chunks of visual information, which receded into the picture plane, subsumed within the overall visual dazzle of gold overlays. Likewise, in the serenely sensual Garden in Cornwall, the combination of midnight blues and silver so floridly evoked moonlight, viewers were apt to hear Beethoven’s most famous sonata playing in their mind’s ears. In the wood burning Photosynthesis, the character of individual lines played second chair to the chromatic assertion of lime greens, purples, and periwinkle.

In Cramer’s drawings on paper, however, the purity and invention of his forms asserted themselves without being overshadowed by glitz. Drawn in black ink with an old-fashioned dip pen, compositions such as Dream Sequence 2 laid bare the obsessiveness and illusionism of their structural bones. Amid a hedge maze of lines and curves, embedded images proliferated: faces, masks, horses, zebras, fishes, snakes, pharmaceutical symbols, and other motifs both fantastical and mundane, morphing into one another on the subtlest turn of a nib. To view these stripped-down drawings side by side with their more effulgent cousins was revelatory. The motifs were essentially identical but generated polar effects depending on media and palette, the paintings and burnings veering into opulence, the drawings into spartan simplicity.

Intriguingly, two paintings, Aromatic Garden and Woodland (both 2011), cross-pollinated the drawings’ pared-down ethos, leaving the majority of each panel devoid of either pigment or gilding, with only judicious slivers of color adorning the carved wood. Not only did this strategy work, it yielded perhaps the most cogent pieces in the show, portending that even a committed maximalist such as Cramer can come to embrace Mies van der Rohe’s iconic maxim that less is more.