Friday, June 5, 2020

The Art of Richard Cramer: Chapter 3

A Mosaic Brightens Broad Street
When Temple University in Philadelphia wanted to engage artists for a campus improvement program, they turned to Richard Cramer, Professor of Painting at their Tyler School of Art and Architecture.

For Temple's Centennial Challenge project, Richard designed a mosaic which was installed at the Student/Faculty Center on the Health Sciences Campus at the corner of Broad and Ontario Streets. "Palisade," a 12 by 19 foot glass mosaic, was completed in 1981. The mosaic was fabricated by Crovatto Mosaics of Yonkers, New York.

The mosaic tiles, or tesseraes, are small blocks of colored, opaque glass manufactured in Italy in a town near Venice.  Costante Crovatto, a master craftsman, came to New York from Italy to oversee the business. They typically made and installed 12 mosaics a year, mostly for churches, but also for well-known artists like Romare Bearden, Roger Brown and Jack Beal.
Richard choosing colors for the mosaic at
 the Crovatto workshop in Yonkers.
When we arrived, the tiles were randomly placed
 in the display case. I arranged them according to hue 
so Richard could make his choices relative to the other colors.
"Palisade" mosaic in the entryway to the
Student/Faculty Center, Health Sciences Campus,
Temple University, Philadelphia
 Drawings for "Palisade" in Richard's studio.
Typically, the artist did not do a full-size drawing for Crovatto.
Instead the artist painted a small-scale model which
 the artisans at Crovatto interpreted, choosing the tile colors 
and enlarging the image to its final size.
Richard created an actual-size drawing for the mosaic and
choose the colors for each section. This is a detail of the drawing.
In progress mosaic on the floor at the Crovatto workshop.
 The tiles were glued to a paper in reverse in the Crovatto workshop.
At the site they were installed on the wall and the backing paper removed.
 Finally the tiles were wiped clean to reveal the
gleaming glass surface.
Richard in front of "Palisade."
 A few years ago we visited places in Philadelphia
where Richard had made a contribution to the city and to his students.
Richard with his son, Richard, and his daughter, Dianna.
Richard and Carol in front of gorgeous color.
Our trip included the garden on the Temple Campus
where Richard's name joins other Temple Faculty
winners of the Great Teachers Award.
With the money from his award, Richard established
the Richard Cramer Color Award for a graduating Senior painter.
The Color Award has been enhanced by the generous donations
made by friends in his honor.

Thank you.

I would also like to thank my friend and neighbor,
 Renata Delsignore,
for her generous gift of a film-to-digital converter which
enabled me to convert slides for this post.
Thanks, Renata!

A Bientot!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Art of Richard Cramer: Chapter 2

The Just-Noticeable Difference of Colors
In 1975, Richard and I moved to a pre-civil war building on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. It was over 4,000 square feet of live-work space on the third and fourth floors. We painted it white and most of our furniture was on castors. Richard's domain was the third floor where he set up his elaborate studio consisting of tables that he designed and made, glass palettes and a big table in the middle on which the actual painting was laid flat.
Richard in his studio in 1978.
Waverly, 1977 
acrylic on canvas in 5 panels
6 feet 4 inches high x 6 feet 8 inches wide
Collection of Smith Kline Beckmann, Philadelphia

The inspiration for Richard's work came from a sense of place, for example the Arizona dessert or the view from our windows. To match this interior quality, he mixed what he called base colors. These in turn generated thousands of other colors, such as you see in Waverly. Richard creating a quantitative mix system for pigments that used exact measurements.
I am interested in threshold levels of minimal change. Colors that are mixed in extremely fine steps to that point of "just noticeable difference". Richard Cramer
A mixing table set up.
Richard hired assistants to mix the colors based on his formulas.
Dave Landry (against wall) and Steve Kraitchman 
at work in the studio. Richard's diagrams
 for color mixing are on the wall.
Jars containing base colors. We lived near Old City
in Philadelphia, and there were businesses selling
chinaware and glassware in the area. We had a ready supply of jars.
 Richard wrote out this formula for his favorite color, Red 47A.
He gave it to Andy Hornberger who recently sent me this photo.
 Richard's studio. It was very hot in the summer.
We had custom tinted shades made for the 10 foot windows.
The view from Richard's studio looking out on 
Chestnut Street at sunset.
The colors and shapes were part of the inspiration
for his paintings.
Richard Cramer on the roof at 723 Chestnut Street,
Philadelphia. The Strawbridge and Clothier department
store is in the background.
Carol at 723 Chestnut Street.
Richard and I had matching hats.

A Bientot!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Art of Richard Cramer: Chapter 1

Richard Cramer:
His Life in Art
My husband, Richard Cramer, who devoted his life to making and teaching art, died on April 10, 2020. He was 87 and had contracted Covid-19. I have often written on this blog about our wonderful life over the span of our 54 years together.

I also want to create a testament to his art, because I believe he was a genius at what he did. For a decade, from 1970 to 1980, Richard made hundreds of color-field paintings, collages, drawings and prints using his proprietary color-mixing system. But do not jump to a conclusion that because he used a system, his work was not poetic. Because that's what it was. It was all about a sense of place. 

Richard grew up in Neenah, Wisconsin. His family owned a small farm which was bordered by a swamp formed by the backwaters of Lake Winnebago. Richard wrote: "There were many animals -- birds, mink and fish, whose shapes and skins were reflected in the light of the water. The integration of these forms in nature and their reflective light has been a constant source for me."

While in the Army, he looked at the static forms of mountains along the Arizona-Mexico border and took in the light of the desert. He said, "My art is based on instinctual response and the belief that light and color are most primal."
Richard in our studio at 39 North 10th Street, Philadelphia,
sometime in the early 70s. 
Prairie du Chien
Richard's first color-field painting completed in 1973.
This painting is 6 feet high by 12 feet long.
 It's comprised of two 6 foot squares placed side by side.
Acrylic on canvas.
 On the wall in the studio at 39 North 10th is 
a color study for Prairie du Chien.
The study consists of 4x5" swatches of "base colors".
Richard invented a color-mixing system to cross mix the
base colors in such a way to create the flairs of color in Prairie du Chien.
The painting is laying flat on a table in the foreground.
The Process
Behind the poetry is the process and Richard's was elaborate. His goal was to create "just noticeable differences" between colors. There are 6,000 different colors in Prairie du Chien. So instead of one absolute color, like you would see in a painting by Ellsworth Kelly, the multitude of colors distinguished by minute changes shimmer across the picture plane to evoke interpretations of light and ambience. 

The individual colors were contained within small, rectangular units. Each unit was taped off with masking tape which Richard had custom made for him in a specific width. The base colors provided the starting point for the color mixing. Once Richard created the formulas for the colors, an assistant actually mixed the paint. He then applied the paint to the canvas in two coats. This created a ridge which captured additional light.
Center: Nancy Anello who was Richard's studio assistant 
for Prairie du Chien.
Ed Fink is on the left and Richard is busy opening
a wine bottle. This must have been a Color Class review.
The Assistant: Nancy Anello 
Nancy Anello, who graduated from Tyler School of Art and Architecture in 1973, was Richard's assistant for Prairie du Chien. We have kept in touch with Nancy, and she sent me this remembrance of Richard:
"I became a painting major because of him. I loved the Color Course. He inspired me and countless other students. I loved working for him mixing colors from his huge catalogue of color swatches. He hired me to help him mix colors for Prairie du Chien, his first color field painting. That was a wonderful summer, working in Richard's studio and having wonderful meals together, that you prepared. I remember raspberries and cream for dessert and Richard rationing himself to only one Heineken, which he immensely enjoyed."
After graduating from Tyler, Nancy received her MFA degree from the San Francisco Art Institute. She became a master printer for Crown Point Press. Her own art work has always incorporated beautiful color. She is a color soul mate and has done hand-printed batik fabric and clothing inspired by her many years of living in Bali, Indonesia. An intrepid traveler, Nancy recently toured India and posted many color-inspired photos on Instagram @nancyanello.
Carol Markel in the 39 North 10th Street Studio.
Richard bought me the green Givenchy sweater at the
Tribout Shop in the John Wanamker department store.
We had more objects back then which we had fun collecting
at flea markets and the alleys of our neighborhood in Philly.

A Bientot!

Monday, January 20, 2020

The 2020 Outsider Art Fair

DJM at The Outsider Art Fair

This year's Outsider Art Fair was special to the Markels because our brother, David Markel, had three works in the show at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City. He was represented by Wilsonville of East Hampton, N.Y. My sister, Jeanne Markel, friend, Sarah Prescott, and I joined David on a visit to the fair on a cold January day.

The Fair is a dizzying array of works which attract you as you zig-zag your way through the booths. One must be well fortified to keep up the mental and physical energy necessary to absorb it all.
Collage by Della Wells
Portrait Society Gallery Milwaukee, WI
DJM, David Markel, at the entrance to the Fair.
Photo by Jeanne Markel
 Painting by David Markel
Two of David's smaller paintings.
Tony Nickalls of the Portrait Society Gallery
wearing a dress by Rosemary Ollison.
Ollison's repurposed fabric "flowers" are on the
wall and floor.
David Markel, Mark Wilson, Jeanne Markel and Carol Markel
Photo by Sarah Prescott via Facebook Post
I can't resist a girl with a hat and a flower.
Photo by Jeanne Markel

Two colored pencil on paper drawings by
Minnie Evans from Hirschl & Adler Modern
 Chairs carved from a single piece of wood
Leon Thiebauld
Bottle People by Fred Palmer
A whole village of wooden people by a Canadian artist.
 Sarah Prescott, Mark Wilson, David Markel and Jeanne Markel

 Lunch after the Fair at Westville.
Photo by Jeanne Markel
Selfie, David and Jeanne.

A Bientot!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Visit to Sparkling Amazons at the Katonah Museum of Art

A Convergence of Art, Women,
Style and Birthday Cake

On Saturday, a group of friends traveled north from New York City on a Metro-North train to Katonah, N.Y. There we met my sister, Jeanne Markel, and continued to the Katonah Museum of Art to see "Sparkling Amazons: Abstract Expressionist Women of the 9th St. Show," a 1951 exhibition of 11 artists who showed work at a pop-up gallery (to use today's term) in New York City.

It was Jeanne's idea to plan this trip, not only to celebrate my birthday, but also to see the work of artists who had not been shown together since 1951 and who were dynamic leaders in a world of art dominated by men. It was Thomas Hess, an art critic for Art News, who called them "Sparkling Amazons". It was an apt sobriquet, as they were dedicated to making incandescent art and were fearless women in their practice.

The well-known names, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Elaine de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler and Grace Hartigan are joined at the KMA by lesser known ones: Perle Fine, Anne Ryan, Sonia Sekula, Day Schnabel, Jean Steubing and Guitou Knoop.

We were 10 fearless, sparkling women who love art, style and creativity. There could not have been a better segue to a joyous day than the convergence of these elements.
Jeanne Markel and Carol Markel.
Jeanne is a trustee of the Katonah Museum of Art.
Arriving at the KMA are Carol Markel, Debra Rapoport 
and artfulcitystyle.
 Michael Gitlitz, Executive Director of the KMA with 
Inge Brouard Brown, trustee emeritus and the
founder of the Katonah Gallery which later became the
Katonah Museum of Art.
Jean of the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas.
Our KMA docent, Bonni Stanley, informed us
with her deep knowledge and vibrant  anecdotes.
 1959 painting by Elaine de Kooning entitled "Bullfight".
I love the passion of its color and brushwork.
1957 masterwork by Lee Krasner called "The Seasons".
On loan from The Whitney Museum of Art.
I respond to its swirling forms and lush color.
Here is our group at the KMA with Valerie of the
Idiosyncratic Fashionistas front and center in the harem pants with orange splashes.
Photo by Katonah Museum of Art
Did somebody say "Birthday?"
This day was also my birthday.
We gathered at The Whitlock restaurant in Katonah for lunch.
 Jeanne ordered a beautiful pear
and dark chocolate mousse cake from L'Anjou Patisserie Francaise in
Mt. Kisco, N.Y. 
Ready to make a wish. 
 Because she knows I love all things French, Jeanne
make these place cards and used one of my drawings.
She also created a trivia game for each person.
Trivia questions.
Debra Rapoport got the most right and won the prize.
 Darsie Alexander, Chief Curator at The Jewish Museum
in New York, (center) with Inge Brown.
I told Jeanne no presents, but guests made
the most imaginative cards and gifts anyway.
Of course they did!
 Maryann Van Dongen in a
beautifully embellished sweater.
 Maryann made this magnetic board using pictures of me, 
my art and my dresses. Each picture is a separate magnet that
you can take off and move around.
It's amazing.
Farewell shot at the Katonah train station.
L-R: Debra Rapoport, Valerie of Idiosyncratic Fashionistas,
Nonnie Balcer and Jean, of Idiosyncratic Fashionistas.

A Bientot!