Essay by Bill Arning - January 2019
Paul Kremer’s first solo show in Houston since 2016 will showcase his grand, irresistible abstractions that have been receiving a thunderous reception in the global art world. Kremer, who first received media celebrity with his ongoing, Instagram-based project Great Art in Ugly Rooms, clearly has a complicated relationship with art history. While in “Great Art,” paintings familiar to all lovers of art history are Photoshopped into demeaning environs—asking whether they still look great without all the contextual clues of museum walls and wealthy living spaces—Kremer’s abstractions transpose highly referential modes of high abstraction into our present locations. Since Kremer designs abstractions that might be from the 20s, 50s, 70s, or the present, they are as much time travelers as the masterworks of Great Art in Ugly rooms were.
Kremer’s abstractions will make anyone with a comprehensive mental database of abstract painting tropes go into “google image search” overdrive mode trying to find a match. Ellsworth Kelly, Max Bill, Pierre Matisse, George Sugarman, Carl Ostendarp, Mary Heilmann, Sarah Morris, and Jean Arp are merely a few of the near matches that come to mind, but Kremer deftly ducks the risk of exact appropriation.
Kremer also plays with a particular point of debate in which the derivation of abstraction from real world forms—windows, animals, landscapes—was considered part of why abstraction mattered. An earlier generation in school was taught that the march toward abstraction was de facto artistic progress and studied Mondrian and Matisse for step-by-step paths away from realistic three-dimensional perspective and description. Then the counter-historical trope also arrived, in which Abstraction’s bravery was proportional to its purity, derived only from mental constructs of geometry, not observation.
Those debates seem humorous now, and Kremer takes them as laugh out loud funny. These series of Animals, Casts, and Windows are quite insistent on having it both ways, abstraction at it most pure and beautiful and also as familiar as a Picasso goat or a Matissian landscape glimpsed out a window. Our inability to see, categorize, and file away Kremer’s abstractions are what keep them resonantly ricocheting around our cerebellums AND in our visual cortices.
A self-taught artist, Paul Kremer was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1971. For twenty years he owned a graphic design studio, where he worked with such clients as Lou Reed, Tom Waits, MTV, PBS, and National Geographic. He was also a founding member of the art collective I Love You Baby, which was active from 1998 to 2008. Kremer has since become a full-time artist. Recent solo exhibitions include “Stacks, Slopes and Streams,” Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, California; “Lean Mechanics,” Eugene Binder, Marfa, Texas; “Base Zones,” Sorry We’re Closed, Brussels, Belgium; “Hometown Bait,” Pablo Cardoza, Houston, Texas; “Dad’s Garage,” Makebish, New York, New York; and “Machine Show,” Library Street Collective, Detroit, Michigan; Kremer lives and works in Houston, Texas.