by David M. Roth
When a photographer showed Naomie Kremer a black-and-white Polaroid test print of one of her paintings, she felt as if she was seeing its structure for the first time. In response, she embarked on series of charcoal drawings to see what could be developed out of that discovery. The results, which were first exhibited here in 2007, are again on view, and they are revelatory. They pull back the curtain on a painting practice that, to my eye, has always been somewhat opaque.
For the past 30 years the artist has created nearly impenetrable abstract works that portray primordial chaos – inspired, the artist says, by early memories of her father reading to her (in Hebrew) from the Book of Genesis. During that time, her art has hewed closely to that theme, mixing floral, aquatic and cosmic imagery in ways that feel intensely physical, the result of having been made under the influence of Abstract Expressionism. Kremer, for her part, has long sought to expand that vocabulary and has done so most successfully by subjecting it to a variety of cross-media experiments.
In 2008, she achieved a major breakthrough by projecting moving images onto paintings, yielding writhing animations that looked and felt alive. Since then, she’s made videos, also based (in part) on paintings, and the intermingling of the two forms, painting and video, have taken her oeuvre into a hybrid realm where nothing is quite what it seems.
Drawn In, the current show, includes some of the charcoal drawings seen in 2007, as well as several others, in charcoal and graphite and in pen, made expressly for this exhibition, To create the former, she projected images of oil paintings onto paper, sketching in charcoal, outlines of their most prominent features, to which she added new forms while leaving intact the basic architecture of the originals. The absence of color, far from draining the pictures of life, actually vivifies them by making clear, elements that, in the paintings, were often submerged: in de Kooning-like slashes, florid Joan Mitchell-like outbursts of color, pointillistic color fields reminiscent of Mark Tobey and vertiginous spatial effects – all of which are built up in layers that run out to the edges. While this horror-vacui approach gives her works a raw, whirlwind force, the sheer density of gesture and mark-making often obscures what’s beneath the surface. The charcoal drawings clarify these matters, largely through differences in value.
They also bring into focus another of Kremer’s longstanding interests: the human body. Amidst the profusion of floral and biological references that populate Untitled IV, for example, you’ll find — if you look closely — totem-like shapes, eyes, noses and breasts leaping out in the manner of images emerging from a photochemical bath. Earlier, I mentioned the cross-pollination between different parts (and periods) of Kremer’s practice. A particularly good example can be seen in the side-by-side pairing of Untitled Drawing I, made this year, and Flock, the 2016 painting on which the drawing is based. The two seem
only loosely connected until you learn that in the first, Kremer allowed earlier memories of drawing nude models to invade and become dominant. The resulting pile-up of truncated torsos, while structurally similar to Flock, evokes nothing so much as an orgy organized by Hans Bellmer.
In Kremer’s universe, one thing always leads to another, and unlike the abstract expressionists from which she learned, she doesn’t draw us into her interior world as much as help us chart a path into our own.
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Naomie Kremer: “Drawn In” @ Modernism through April 24, 2021.
About the author:
David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecylinder.