Ines Kramer was born in Caracas, Venezuela and spent her first years in the Dominican Republic. Her family came to the United States when she was five, settling in the New York metropolitan area. After getting her BA in psychology, she pursued her art studies at Parsons and the Art Students’ League. Moving to the Bay Area in 1989, she continued her art education at San Francisco State University. In 1992, she began exhibiting her work, gaining national exposure by 1993. Kramer relocated to Santa Fe, NM in 2004. She’d been drawn to the southwest ever since taking a cross-country camping trip with her family in 1970. The terracotta landscape, big sky and massive plains were memories that stayed with her and continue to affect her work today.
Scott MacLeod: How did you become a painter?
Ines Kramer: In my late 20’s, when I worked in social services in New York, I realized that what I really wanted to do was go to art school. I got a certificate in fine arts at Parsons, then took tons of classes at the Art Students League, School of Visual Arts, any place where I heard there was a good teacher. I supported myself by working part-time for three different entrepreneurs who’d started their own businesses. Because I did a little bit of everything, I learned a lot about how to run a small business. Even more importantly, I got to watch how people took risks. It was really something to watch people take a leap of faith every day.
I started painting full time after being in a car accident. My injuries made it really clear that I couldn’t do a desk job for 40 hours a week anymore. My goal became to figure out what job I could do so I could work for myself, make my own hours, paint when I wanted to. I had had no thought that I could skip those in-between steps and simply make my living through my art. I did an Open Studio and got approached by an art consultant, then I started approaching galleries (Hang Art and Cecile Moochnek galleries), and got in, and a month at a time I started making money, enough to keep going. I think it was about six or seven months later, I started to realize: oh my god. I think I’m a full time artist.
I’ve watched what entrepreneurs do whenever an opportunity comes along: they say yes, and then they figure out how to do it. So that’s my motto.
SM I get the sense that many Santa Feans are originally from somewhere else. They seem to have been successful elsewhere, and have brought to Santa Fe the personal and professional skills that made them successful elsewhere. But here they don’t appear quite as driven by those skills - people seem to mainly just enjoy being here, and sort of do what they want.
IK I think that’s what draws people here or helps people stay. Mary Bennett and other people have told me that Santa Fe will either embrace you or it will spit you out. I was embraced. And as a painter, I appreciate the fact that Santa Fe really appreciates painting. If you come here trying to live the New York or L.A. or San Francisco life, you’re going to be really unhappy. But if you come with that experience but really appreciate the slower pace, you’ll have a great time. And then be able to do whatever it is you feel like doing.
I wasn’t sure that I could leave the complexity of a larger city like San Francisco. Here, I have a narrower focus, in a way. But now I have this big view, literally and internally. I haven’t actually lost anything. And I’ve gained so much.
SM This kind of feels like it’s home for you for awhile.
IK I keep saying I’m never moving again. I should know better by now, never say never. But it does feel like home. I can’t imagine wanting anything more than this. We’re only in this house since October, so it’s very new still. My last studio in Oakland was my garage, just shy of 380 sq. ft. So this work [pointing to several 42"x42” paintings] used to feel really large in that space. Now I have 1500 square feet, and this work no longer feels quite so big.
Because I have to work flat (I layer watercolor and acrylic), I need space to spread out. I find I work better working on several pieces at once, and here I can look at all the work at the same time. In Oakland, I’d made racks, so that while something was drying I’d put it in the rack and pull something else out. Now I’m able to lay out ten sheets of watercolor paper and look at them all at the same time. And that changes everything. I can get into more subtle variations on a theme. I get to go in deeper because I have this space to work in.
SM And this “larger space” isn’t just about the size of your studio, is it? Through these huge windows, you also have this incredible view into the external landscape.
IK I look at it a lot. In New York we had a view of a brick wall. If it was wet, it meant it was raining out. That’s how we knew the weather. We had a really nice view of the the bay from our Oakland house, but from my studio I just had a view of the street. So this view (of the mesa) is pretty big. It’s a fairly simple landscape. It would be very easy to do just three ribbons of color to recreate it. It affects my internal space. Something in me feels much more open.
What I love about the landscape here is that you’re in the sky. The clouds are generally very low. It’s really spectacular. You’ve been in town for a couple of thunderstorms, so you know: you get to see and hear the sky. It’s kind of biblical out there. It’s very big, it’s Technicolor.
SM Do you find yourself reaching out to a wider geographical spectrum since you’ve been here?
IK It’s a different geographical spectrum. Now I think about: where can I drive in a day or two? Because I always want to see where it is I’m sending the artwork. I will be scouting galleries in Houston and Austin. I never thought about Texas much before. I used to think that sitting in a car for a day was going to kill me; and now I drive two days to get to California, so driving a day or two to get somewhere else doesn’t seem like a big deal. Because New Mexico is a more isolated place, it’s just much more natural to get in your car and drive five hours to Denver. People think: oh that’s just next door.
SM But try to get somebody to leave the Mission and come to a show in Oakland.
IK [Laughter] I think it’s because there’s just so much already nearby; you don’t need to move around.
SM I want to ask you about the social world, the social landscape in Oakland, in the Bay Area. About what you got from that that benefitted your work, and the ways in which the expectations or unstated values of an aesthetic community intimidate or restrict that.
IK I was in a fairly unique position, because I got to examine a lot of that, being part of No Limits for Women in the Arts*. For example, I make happy art. I’ve made very dark art. I don’t think one is better than the other.
There’s nothing nastier than the word “decorative” when you describe art. And I make art that’s pretty decorative. I don’t set out to make decorative work, I don’t set out thinking: oh this is gonna sell. When I started doing this work, I was just having such a blast mixing watercolor and acrylics, and saying, “Look at what it does! What can I do next?” So I’ve always felt like it comes from a very natural place in me. I love living with it. It was by doing a lot of work in No Limits that I was able to just let go of all the pejorative associations with the ideas of beauty, of decorative, happy art.
SM And these [pejorative associations] were culturally received through many different sources.
IK Pick up any art magazine or any review, yes. There’s also this puritan work ethic that we’re all sitting under, and it tells us that if we’re not suffering, we’re not true artists, we’re not doing something that’s valuable. I think the miracle is to find the thing that comes naturally, that’s very genuine - at any given time in your life. If you can find that and tap into it, that’s what makes art really powerful. And I think that’s what ultimately makes the art that’s the most viable, even commercially. You may not still be alive....[laughter] when its time has come, but I think that energy is in there. And I think that art that’s made in a very calculated way - “I’m gonna do this because it’s the thing that sold last week, and I’m going to make 50 more of them,” - I just think the fatigue comes through really fast.
SM There were some pretty obscene prices in downtown Santa Fe.
IK I was told that Santa Fe prices are lower than the coasts, but I don’t think that’s true. Real estate on Canyon Road is really high. I think it’s probably comparable to New York, but they don’t have the high-rises, so in Chelsea, you can be on 23rd Street but you’re on the eighth floor, and that kind of makes up for it. Here, everything’s ground floor, so everybody’s paying super top dollar.
SM Mary Bennett says you got a gallery here pretty quickly.
IK Another convergence. It was the right gallery at the right time. I’m at Winterowd Fine Arts. It opened last July (2004) at 701 Canyon Road.
I’m part of a group that meets every week here in Santa Fe. I had gone to a one-day workshop given here by Geoffrey Gorman, who has acted as a career coach for artists. A few of us who’d gotten very inspired from that workshop had breakfast the following week, then we started inviting people and now we’ve been meeting for over a year. We’re a little bit structured: everybody gets to talk for five to seven minutes, so that no one person or problem dominates.
A year ago, only one of us had a gallery. A year later, almost all of us have a gallery or have had a show here in Santa Fe. The reason I knew Karla Winterowd had opened a gallery is because somebody in the group told me. If I’d missed a couple of Friday art walks, I wouldn’t have known. I don’t like the word synergy, mostly because it’s so misused, but there is a synergy in this group. I’ve seen people’s careers move differently and seen them really take charge and have a greater sense that they’re doing what they really want to be doing. To me there is nothing more powerful than people in the same boat figuring it out together.
*No Limits for Women in the Arts is a national network of support groups empowering women artists to fully succeed in their creative work and careers. Group members assist each other, as artists and arts community leaders, to develop and succeed in realizing visions and goals.