Hamburg

Jurgen Kramer

From the blackness of a tomb, a pink, winged skull looms up, clumsily painted the color of raspberry chewing gum. The skull is perched on a pale female body that is pierced by a lance. In this painting, Leichenwagen (Hearse, 1987), Jürgen Kramer uses Bavarian votive pictures of purgatory as inspiration. But his palette is widely variegated. Kramer does not believe in a metaphysics of the image, or in esthetic appeal, or in the picture as a formed or shaped entity. His paintings help us to wander through the world of images. A constant subject throughout this wandering is death—not as the antithesis to life or as a threat, but as a part of life. The artist maintains that in death, man enters into actual being: dying gives him the ability to live.

Kramer’s paintings have no signature. The artist derides individual style as a bourgeois quirk, a cage. He demands a new kind of painting, one that postulates a new, freer kind of power. The viewer may be confused by this rejection of style, by this cancellation of the artistic will. The world of this outsider is indeed bottomless. No painting offers any reassurance, nothing supplies a foundation for whatever comes next. Einladung zum Freitod (Invitation to suicide, 1986), rendered in pastel colors and naive strokes, shows a somnambulistic girl descending a stairway over an abyss. In Hochzeit der Gräber (Wedding of graves, 1988), black graves appear side by side on two canvases; at the center a medallion reads Leiche (Corpse). The oval frame might allow us to expect a nosegay from afar, but the blossoms are bomb explosions over a landscape of tanks and soldiers. Any horror is good enough for Kramer, for it opens the road to Hades, to actual life.

Kramer demands nothing of his paintings but existence—form and color. The painting as an autonomous object is not new. But Kramer goes one step further, by using the work’s independent existence in order to expose the lie of art. He at-tempts to overcome the separation between shadow and substance, the heritage of Plato’s myth of the cave. He freely laughs at both truth and lies when he calls one of his paintings—a female figure looming, vertiginously beautiful, out of a dark texture—Lachende Lüge (Laughing lie, 1983).

Kramer’s paintings are impudent, ugly, crazy, badly painted, horrifying, and tasteless, and yet they are great in their riskiness. They confront conventional notions of art by having no recognizable, marketable style, and they radically invite danger by opening the gates to death and the devil without clinging to any tradition. In his nihilism, Kramer carries the outsider position to its extremes.

Doris von Drateln

Translated from German by Joachim Neugroschel.