In the tradition of Kenneth Patchen’s Sleepers Awake and Ray Johnson’s Snake, David Kramer makes books that double as his art. Long dubbed "The Mayor of Williamsburg" by his fellow Brooklyn artists, Kramer combines sexy postcard paintings of lovers in cars, canoes and hot tubs with shaggy dog texts documenting his own true reality: disappointment and dashed hopes.
As Kramer puts is in his new book-artwork Snake Oil, "I am desperately trying to hang onto my romantic notion of life, but I am afraid that all that does is make me seem more and more creepy." The snake oil, the romantic promise of every Beatles hit and Sinatra croon, seeps through each hour of Kramer’s desperate middle age, not just his love life.
In one of the book’s texts, an artist friend comes to New York, tries to make it big, and fails, then tells Kramer, "New York decided it doesn’t want US. WE took our best shot, but it wasn’t what they wanted."
To which Kramer replies, "Hey, don’t include ME in your stupid synopsis. I like it here. I was born here. Go home! Take your stupid ball with you!"
In another of Snake Oil’s vignettes, Kramer tries to get his dyslexic son into a special school. He sits down with the school’s admissions officer. Trying to make an analogy about adapting, she tells Kramer, "Let’s say you are an artist who paints landscapes with blue skies. Someone comes to your studio and says,’ If you paint purple skies, I can sell your painting and the buyer will tell his friends who will also buy purple sky paintings’." Kramer remarks, "I told this woman I was, in fact, an artist and I would tell that person to get the fuck out of my studio."
Then he continues, "I surprised myself. The truth is that I would grow a ponytail if a curator would put me in a particular show. All I really succeeded in was getting my son rejected at a school I couldn’t afford to send him to anyway."
Kramer’s images, a gun and a bottle of Jack Daniels labeled "Homeland Security," the artist in a flannel shirt wielding an axe, lovers snuggling at the drive-in, reek of the bleeding colors you see in the paintings of Stephen Lack, Kathe Burckhardt and Richard Prince. I never get tired of this style, entropy in paint with a neurotic twist, and Kramer is one of its better practitioners.
Also, looking in the mirror, I see the worldviews of Kramer and myself merging on that boathouse over the River Styx. Should you empathize, tattered dreamer, order Snake Oil at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).