What I really love about Zach Cramer's recent work is his ability to transfer various styles and nods to art history throughout his pieces, utilizing the general theme of dogs as a recognizable, almost ubiquitous, image. They're at turns fun, quiet, and mysterious. More at the links after our interview!
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First, tell me a bit about you! Where are you based currently?
After completing my MFA I’ve been living and working in Providence, RI for the past year. I share a studio in an old textile mill in the Olneyville neighborhood with my significant other and a fellow RISD grad. This June I will be moving my home and studio to Minneapolis, MN. I’ll be sad to leave Providence, but I am excited about the change of pace from New England to the upper Midwest.
You recently earned an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design; how did that influence your practice, and how has it changed since you left the university setting?
Graduate school definitely changed my attitude about volume. The general atmosphere was production and guilt. If you were not making and utilizing all free hours of the day, you were not utilizing your time wisely. And I agree with that in an academic context. The more you make, present, discuss, and regroup - you can hone in on your strengths.
That said, I am glad to take my time and reflect in the studio without the constant urge to be producing. It took about a year to reset that urge after graduating.
When did you first become interested in art, especially making it yourself?
One of my earliest memories is of drawing on the kitchen floor as a 4 or 5 yr old. My sister would draw horses for me, just the outlines and the eyes on lined paper. I would take them and draw on saddles and manes, sometimes put them in a western scene. But I’ve always been interested in drawing or making pictures in some way. I started taking photographs and making movies with my friends when I was thirteen, but didn’t become serious with any of it until college.
Your practice encompasses different material processes such painting and printmaking, but your theme revolves around dogs. When did that come about, and what is the significance of dogs in your work?
I began drawing dogs in graduate school, greyhounds specifically. At first the dogs were just a vehicle. They have beautiful lines, but also this cool / alien demeanor about them, which I like. I tend to overthink ideas, so having a predetermined subject let me concentrate on developing my own hand when working between two mediums and with new materials. Also, I’m drawn to recognizable imagery, but shy away from narratives so I continue to draw the dogs and I use them to work out compositional, material, and color ideas.
What is your process like?
I like to do reading around the subjects I am working with, which recently has been focused on sighthounds and their prominence in medieval tapestries and manuscripts. I’ve been fortunate to have access to two amazing libraries here in Providence. Between Brown University and RISD I can find anything I need.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio to get you in the best mode to create?
Most often I walk into the studio and have to spend 45 minutes straightening everything out, clearing space and rearranging whatever I left out or didn’t clean up. I go through my flat files and see what's where, I still haven’t figured that out. For me it’s a way to decompress from whatever I just arrived from doing and it allows me to reset emotionally. I just sort of putter around and get acclimated, perpetually cleaning like a roomba.
What is your favorite mantra, quote, or piece of advice?
“You only live once, so live the way you want to.” - Malcolm Myers
How would you define "success?"
I feel successful when I am working and not thinking. When I can lose track of three or four hours at a time I am happy.
What do you feel is the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally?
For better or worse, I think young artists are stuck with Instagram, and social media in general, being one of the new outlets for getting your work out and seen by a lot of people. It’s a great way to connect with other artists and galleries you wouldn’t normally, but it is easy to get inundated with art images everyday that it makes it daunting to have an Instagram presence and not feel like I am screaming into a void. Honestly, I don’t think Instagram is the most challenging aspect of being an artist, by a long shot. It’s just an ongoing conversation I’ve had with my friends.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I am packing up my studio. It’s bittersweet, but it's been really exciting to go through older work, things from school I didn’t think much of, or scraps and photograph them. Other than that I am continuing to work with greyhounds and planning a project to travel around the states to photograph the last remaining or closed greyhound racing tracks. I want to come back with enough images to put together a photo essay.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’ve learned that some artists want to make work that is “about” something, and other want to make work that is “of” something. Both are valid and effective, but not everyone can articulate what their work is about, and some people probably shouldn’t bother. Because at the end of the day art should look and feel good at first glance.
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