Tom Cramer's painted and carved wooden panels at Laura Russo are a jumble of maddening, fascinating paradoxes: Hyperkinetic yet serene, intricate yet cryptic, they show a midcareer artist taking risks, scoring hits and occasionally falling flat as he expands his well-known visual vocabulary. As in the past, Cramer carves abstract or semi-abstract shapes into panels, letting paint pool in crannies and sometimes gilding the works until they blaze with Aztec glory. In works such as Golden Dawn he creates undulating, indented surfaces, a tactic that imparts a trippy, handcrafted effect one part the holy city of Rishikesh, two parts Oregon Country Fair. The imagery in Dune resembles the folds of the brain, while Corridor #7 bursts forward with concentric stars, Space Station with Industrial Revolution machines and tools, and Power Plant with grim Polynesian tiki totems. The effectiveness of this imagery often depends on Cramer's chromatic choices. It's impossible to go wrong with the gleaming gold, silver and copper leafs at which Cramer has become such a whiz, but when he works in oil paint, he veers between elegance and excess. The mint-on-silver Neptune and maroon-on-silver Crater Lake are subtle, immaculate, pristine; but at times Cramer succumbs to the urge to go all bubblegum-cotton candy-godawful-Keith Haring-willynilly, as in the indigestion-inducing Mango Tree , Rock Garden and Overpopulation .
When he departs from the tried-and-true and ventures into untested techniques, the artist proves himself light and limber, as in two new subsets of work. The first are his super-fastidious, burned-in shapes on birch panel: jaunty, chaotic and feverish. With judicious color placement complementing a well-balanced sense of positive and negative space, these fresh, obsessive works are what you might expect to see from a brilliant twentysomething artist just making a name for himself in Williamsburg or Berlin. That an established mid-career Northwest painter can muster such moxie gives hope to us all. The second new tack can be seen in Pipe Dreams and Prehistoric Garden . Less chunky and more sinuous than what Cramer normally essays, these works evoke Tibetan cloud designs or wilted lotus blossoms, pulsating with squishy, estrogenic sensuality.
Laura Russo, 805 NW 21st Ave., 226-2754. Closes Oct. 27.