"If you really want to see me go away ...
Just give me whatever it is that I want"
As the title of his exhibition at Aeroplastics Contemporary makes abundantly clear, one doesn't get rid of David Kramer that easily. Give him what he wants? Okay, but just what is that? The little phrases with which he sprinkles his drawings and paintings are always in the first person, and denote a form of permanent dissatisfaction. The sort that leads not to depression, no, but rather to a good sitdown with a glass of whiskey (a libation that occupies no small part of his oeuvre). Expressions of the artist's chronic dissatisfaction, something that Kramer himself pokes fun at in his videos? Or the inability of the American Way of Life - whose clichés furnish the basis of his iconography - to make us happy? After all, we are all artists...
As Michel Butor recalls in Les mots dans la peinture: "..in bygone days it was said that poets painted with words". And indeed David Kramer, after his training as painter and sculptor, cultivated a close interest in poetry. Words ended up inextricably integrating themselves within his graphic oeuvre, to the point of creating a sort of hybrid, mid-way between the plastic arts and literature. Narrative is in question here, when he incorporates typed text with his images, with disillusion and irony ever at the fore. An extract: "You know, if I could just go back and have some of the money back that I blew on beer and cigarettes over the years, I'd probably be a millionaire. Man, I wish I hadn't been so wasteful. But you know, if I could somehow get all of that money back, I'd just go and blow it all over again." The full text is centered on money matters, and to illustrate this (or contrarily, is the text doing the illustrating), Kramer furnishes the simple portrait of a young couple, seemingly drawn from a 70's cigarette ad (she's smoking, he's standing back). Another text, handwritten, frames the image: "If I could go back and change a few things, I would... But I am not sure if the things I aspire for ever really existed, anyway." The rapport between the two texts is clear, while that between text and image is less so. Cigarettes? But what about the beers... Other works introduce a more direct relationship between word and picture: a lit cigarette burning in an ashtray, with the text proclaiming that all the cigarettes smoked by the artist, if put end-to-end, would cover the distance of a marathon.
The work of David Kramer is not reducible to a system, and it's just this that makes it interesting. Everything functions as though the text-image relationship obeys a logic, but then each time different. When he writes: "I am still hopeful that one of these days I will finally get this thing off the ground," above a Pan-Am Boeing, it's more than likely he's making reference to his own career as artist, and not to any hypothetical flight-deck ambitions, as the rest of the text goes to show: "... I just hope when that finally does happen, I get more than a bag of peanuts." In another vein, the many and various bottles of Jack Daniels and Jim Beam that he's painted, are each time accompanied by a different text, but all evoke different existential states allied to the (somewhat) abusive consumption of alcohol: "Stop me if you've heard this one before", "Plan B", "Stop me if this is starting to sound familiar", "No more Mr. Nice Guy", etc.
In the description of his philosophy of life, David Kramer's favorite conjunction is the word "but": things could be better, but they are what they are; or, things might change, but does that mean for the better? Ironic, bittersweet, inhabited by a New York-Jewish sense of humor, the work of David Kramer uses text and image to bring us those little (self) reflections that flash through all our heads at one moment or other during the course of the day. His illustrations, harking back to stereotypes peddled by ad agencies during the golden 60's and 70's (less golden, but anyway..), make us consider to what point the notion of happiness, as soon as it's used to sell a product, a concept or a style, becomes relative. And despite his assertion that "... In a perfect world, I would be one happy mother fucker," he will forgive us if we continue to have our doubts.