John KramerUCT News December 1999
Whether it's a string of rural shops with a lovely old bicycle parked on the stoep or a cluster of blue gums in front of a general dealer, John Kramer wants his paintings to be memories of the South Africa he remembers when he was growing up.
The works of the much-respected artist, who graduated from UCT with a Diploma in Fine Art in 1969, grace the walls of several galleries around the country, including the National Gallery, which has three of his paintings in their collection.
John is an exhibition designer at the South African Museum and has several other interests like web-design, photography and collecting post cards, but he is still most passionate about painting.
'There's a lot of demand for my work from overseas buyers who want some South African flavoured stuff,' says the 53 year old father of two teenage boys.
John's paintings can be found in some exhibiting local galleries and he does a lot of work on consignment.
Five years older and less well-known than his brother, David Kramer, John is proud that "David has done so fantastically well".
The two grew up in the Western Cape rural town of Worcester where Sunday afternoons were sleepy and shops were shut and there was a milk bar called Van Vuurens, fashioned on an American 'soda fountain'.
But John only realised that it was these images he wanted to paint when he went to visit David in Leeds in the UK, where the younger Kramer was studying textile design after winning a scholarship.
'I realized that the tin roofs, the blue gum trees, the blue skies, the open space which I had come to know, were very South African and very unlike Leeds with is red brick buildings all close together.
So on his return to his homeland, he armed himself with a camera, which served as his sketchpad, and started capturing the quaintness of little towns on film.
He still works from this vast, ever-growing and very private collection of photographs and his paintings typically depict street scenes and buildings of days long gone by.
'In 20 years' time, even the McDonalds we see today will be very different. All sorts of things are going to disappear, just like things which were around 20 years ago, are not here now. And it's interesting to see how things like the use of burglar bars has grown over the years,' says Kramer.
'Over the years in towns like Hopefield, Malmesbury and Paarl, you will find that the little row of shops where the general dealer, butcher and barber used to be, have been replaced with larger supermarkets. I weep when I think of the buildings that were there.' Kramer says wistfully.
Of the UCT experience he says he was removed from the activities on the main campus as he was based at Michaelis Art School in the city.
'When I left varsity, I was not prepared for a job. All I wanted to do was paint! So I went back to Worcester to paint.'
'In my heart I was always a bit of a realist. And in the 60s all the emphasis was on expressionism, op-art, pop-art, that kind of thing. It was quite a shock when you painted real things. Nobody painted the kind of buildings I did.' he says.
'Then this top US art critic, Clement Greenberg saw some of my work and commented favourably on it and suddenly people started to take notice of my paintings.' John remembers.
In 1970 he went for an interview at the SA Museum and nearly 30 years later he still enjoys the varied work he does there.
'It's diverse, I deal with an interesting range of people like various natural and human scientists, and I can control and shape and plan showcases and see the end product. It's more creative and never dull.' explains Kramer.
'My paintings have not changed that dramatically over 20 years. It's about an image. It's about a building in 1983 at 4pm on a July afternoon. It's about capturing time. It reflects the history of the South Africa I knew when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s and I want to keep that.
'To others my paintings may look the same, but to me there's a subtle development and there's still so much to do,' he says.