Tom Cramer (American, b. 1960) is widely known for his intricate relief paintings, which celebrate the lushness of nature and the mysteries of the cosmos. Luxuriantly carved into blocks of mahogany and Ponderosa pine, emblazoned with metallic leaf—rivulets of oil paint pooling around islands of raised contour—the paintings spring from Cramer’s feverish visual imagination. But while art lovers across the Northwest are familiar with his ecstatic and visionary works on panel, few know of his parallel practice in drawing, which deeply informs his paintings.
Since his early teens, Cramer has used drawing to chart his pictorial and thematic concerns on a journey from line to form to sculptural relief—a trajectory across three dimensions. To view the drawings contextualized vis-a-vis the paintings is to peer into a mind in the throes of creation: deploying the time-honored tools of draftsmanship to transmute simple lines into symphonies of forms in ever-shifting compositions, some harmonious, some dissonant. In fact, it may be impossible to fully understand Cramer’s iconic relief paintings without an awareness of the drawings, and yet these two interrelated practices, united by their approach to line, have until now never been explored in a museum exhibition.
Organized by guest curator Richard Speer, the exhibition’s mission—using a focused selection of Cramer’s drawings over a 40-year span, as well as a selection of wood burnings and relief paintings drawn from private collections and the museum’s collection—is to show viewers how a gifted artist uses inventive and idiosyncratic techniques to create a vessel for the voyage from line to form to volume. In so doing, Journey to the Third Dimension will offer the viewing public a glimpse not only into the mind and hand of one of the Northwest’s most renowned and prolific artists, but also into the wider machinations of the creative process itself.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website