Color that Kills: Nick Kramer’s Unsettling Resin Relief Sculptures
There’s something unsettling about “Spirit Baby,” a new exhibition by L.A.-based artist Nick Kramer, now at The Pit II in Glendale, California. His works—a sculptural series of polyester-resin wall reliefs—are colorful and creepy, cheerful yet threatening.
Those uneasy sensations, it seems, are born of the contradiction between Kramer’s subject and his material. The abstract forms call to mind shapes and textures from the natural world: eggs, peanuts, conch shells, cells and amoebas as they might be seen through a microscope, even internal organs. They’re playful, in a way, brightly colored, and entertaining to look at. But they’re rendered in synthetic materials, the kind you wouldn’t want interacting with your internal organs—or with your baby, as the exhibition’s name suggests. Mildly repulsive titles, like Gross City and Beef Liver (both 2016), only add to the discomfort.
Stuart Krimko, noted poet and former director of David Kordansky Gallery in L.A., sheds some light on this contrast in an essay that accompanies the exhibition. “Kramer’s work,” he writes, “reflects the uneasy relationship between industry and biology in a world whose technological promise enables life even as it pollutes it.”
“Toxic,” “menacing,” “sick-making”—Krimko rightly calls upon such words to describe Kramer’s unnerving sculptures. In Green Hand / Yellow Pencil (2016), an outstretched hand desperately reaches for something, as if the attached human were drowning in quicksand. Another hand, Rose Hand / Silver Bic (2016), looks like it’s already dead; the rest of the corpse might be nearby.
There’s a distinct feeling of menace, too, in subtler pieces like A Dreamer’s Fear of Aging (2016). Despite the lightness and aesthetic harmony of pastel pink and metallic silver, the effect is ominous.
“I see my studio practice as an organ,” Kramer has said of his process and the mysterious feeling it conjures. “In much of what I make there is a moment of rejuvenation where the piece is broken down and remade new to me, as if found.” Just as “Spirit Baby” isn’t easy to digest or summarize, these works weren’t easy to make, or to give birth to, so to speak. Nevertheless, Kramer has said, “I know it is done when the work feels found to me.”
“Nick Kramer: Spirit Baby” is on view at The Pit II, Glendale, California, Apr. 10–May 22, 2016.