John Kramer



I am endlessly fascinated by the South African small town especially in the Western Cape and Karoo.

In the early 1970’s I began to record  the shop-fronts, corner cafe’s, bioscopes and general dealer stores in my hometown Worcester with my 35mm camera, fearing they may soon disappear. The supermarket was coming to town. Television was still to make its presence felt. I wanted to hold onto the memory.
Trying to establish my voice as a painter and searching for a subject I realised that these ordinary buildings that I had grown up with meshed with my idea of doing something essentially South African. This idea clarified after my first overseas trip to Europe in 1974. On my return to Cape Town, I realised how different and extraordinary the local scene was.  Influenced by the photo-realism movement at the time, I began to use my photographs as a subject for my deadpan realist works.

I try and create paintings that have an intensity about them. I am told my images seem frozen, eerie, surreal. What makes them so is the absence of living beings – this is deliberate and draws attention to the buildings themselves. These facades become a kind of portrait. I want the viewer to concentrate on the man-made details, advertising and lettering. The strong light, casting shadow, texture and pattern over the structure, that is so typical of the Western Cape is emphasized.

I comment on a particular kind of building which expresses something of the people who created it or who live and work in it, but who, themselves, are not conscious of the image which it projects.

Over the years my style of painting has loosened up, with more emphasis on brushstrokes and paint texture, as opposed to my earlier work which tended to be harder and flatter and more hyper-realistic – I still remain a committed realist. This, for me, was the only approach that could convey the message I wanted to put across. With realism, you have to be calculated – you can’t just work from the heart or the imagination – because the weight of every element counts.  My aim is to create paintings that comment about a certain place that existed at a specific and unique moment in time”.