We spoke with Tom Cramer, an Oregon native and veritable Portland institution, about the sources of inspiration for his show Oregon Landmarks.
WW: What drew you to the Northwest landscape this time?
Tom Cramer: For one thing, it's in my blood. I was born here, and so were both of my parents. Politically, this has always been a liberal, libertarian state; it's never been part of the military-industrial complex. Geologically, the land itself is a microcosm of the planet Earth. You could shoot a Hollywood Western here and make it look like west Texas; there are rainforests that look like Costa Rica; the Cascades look like the Swiss Alps. It's amazing. It's as if—if you wanted to manufacture every possible landscape on earth, you could find it in Oregon.
I see the beauty you're portraying in the work, but in some pieces I detect some sinister undercurrents.
Yes. There's a connection between the sinister and the romantic. I think there's something scary and Brothers Grimm-like in the old-growth forests. When you go to the Columbia River Gorge and Crater Lake and certain parts of the coast, there's a primal, Black Forest, fairy-tale kind of spiritual power. I have a piece called Oneonta Gorge, which...is literally like walking into a pussy or a womb or a cave…. There's a sense of the dark side: a dread, an angst straight out of Richard Wagner and Francis Bacon and the Doors. It's a romantic view of late nights and hangovers and loneliness and desperation.
Why do you like metallics so much?
The pragmatic answer is that it unifies all the visual information. The other component is that it adds a holographic, 3-D effect and a polish. I'm very attracted to jewels and jewelry and things that are ornamental and affluent-looking. It's a Heideggerian concept: If it looks beautiful, it is beautiful. I like beauty. I think we're living in an ugly age, and I'm rebelling against that.
SEE IT: Laura Russo Gallery, 805 NW 21st Ave., 226-2754, laurarusso.com. Closes May 28.