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In Conversation with Naomie Kremer

Naomie Kremer shares her creative process during COVID-19 and the history of her multi-faceted painting process that incorporates video, sound, and text.


Naomie Kremer at "Embodiment (2020)," The Modernism

To hear the audio version of the interview click here.


Marjorie Martay–


I'm talking to Naomie Kremer, Israeli-born Brooklyn-raised artist who divides her time between Berkeley, New York, and Paris. Naomie, it's wonderful to be having this discussion together today– it’s been a long time since you and I have actually seen each other. In fact, I was recalling when we actually did an Art W Salon in my apartment in Central Park South, if I'm not mistaken it was a conversation with Amei Wallach, correct?

Naomie Kremer–


Oh, that's right. I brought a hybrid painting. I think it was around 2009.

Marjorie Martay–


It's nice to be doing this discussion now over ten years later and obviously in a very different time. How are you dealing with the coronavirus?

Naomie Kremer–


Well, it's a really different lifestyle. We were supposed to be in France right now. I would be getting ready for a show in Marseille in June with an installation. Even if we were in New York, life is normally full of meetings, dinners, lunches and things to go see and do– and at the moment that's all kind of gone away. It’s a very clear and wide open time. I wish I could retain some of this calm in other times, without the coronavirus– this clarity and no sense of chasing time or being constantly faced with deadlines. Deadlines are all suspended for the moment like everything else, so in some ways, it's really peaceful.



Chromatopia, 49" x 72 1/4" oil on linen, 2011

Marjorie Martay–


It's really amazing here in New York. It's crazy. I'm finding myself pretty much staying in and going out a little for some quick walks. Especially if you like being very culturally attuned as we both are, it's hard when you don't have the theater, music, the galleries to go to, and so on. We can do a lot of the stuff virtually, which of course we're doing now, but it's different.

Naomie Kremer–


In a way it's like having an enforced artist residency. I’m in one place going for walks, but otherwise, I’m working, cooking and listening to music. But as you say no going out for any cultural events. I'm okay with it for now.

Marjorie Martay–


That's great. I'm curious, you mentioned cooking. So are you cooking up a storm?

Naomie Kremer–


Well, I'm just here with my husband. Normally we probably eat out four times a week one way or another. I tend to cook the same thing, you know on a cycle every week. We have our salmon and salad, we have a chicken, we have pork chop or something, but at the moment I'm getting really creative and it's fun. Cooking is one of the big ways of keeping yourself amused, entertained and satisfied through variations in what you're eating. That's been kind of fun. Also, I don't resent the time it takes to cook. Normally, I don't want to spend my time cooking but at the moment since we have so much more time, it's a very nice activity actually.



Then and Now: French Connection, 82 3/4" x 142" triptych, oil on linen, 2006


Marjorie Martay–


It's so interesting how sometimes being in the kitchen can be another creative outlet and you feel good about trying to make it so special. I think that's what it's all about now– is that you are really much more conscious of the time you're spending with the people that you want to be around and making whatever you serve be more than sustenance. I'm interested in how this virus has affected your work? Are you thinking about maybe doing something related to the virus?

Naomie Kremer–

I feel like the work I've been doing over the last year, which is so focused on the body, is very relevant right now. Because this work is all about living in the body: community, individuals, groups and couples. So I seem to already be working in a way that is somewhat in the moment. I tend to have a delay in the way I digest artistically. When I have input, there is a period of time in which it just sits, gels and marinates before something comes out that's related to the input. So I can’t say I'm doing anything right now that's exactly connected to the virus. But who knows? It's going to affect us all in some way. The main thing I'm interested in is continuing the series that I started already.

Marjorie Martay–


In terms of your modes of work, Naomie, you pretty much do four interrelated types of works– painting, drawing, set design, and video– a hybrid. It's fascinating. You work on so many levels. Could you talk about that?



Trinity, pigment, oil on canvas 40 x 70 inches

Naomie Kremer–


My MFA was in painting and drawing. I continued developing all that for a few years and then in the late 90s video became a big thing for me. People always told me that my work had a lot of motion. I often work large-scale so I move around a lot when I'm painting. I listen to music when I'm working, and I work with a lot of rhythm. I would spend months working on a painting, and I became quite frustrated with how little time people spend looking at painting. What I discovered was that somebody will watch a video for ten minutes. But I don't know when anybody has looked at a painting for ten minutes. Incorporating video in my work isa. way of highlighting the different ways we experience different media.

I was commissioned to do a video-based set for the opera “Bluebeard's Castle” by Bela Bartok, in 2008. I worked on it for a year and I really did an extensive one-hour accompaniment to the music. It was a fascinating process. I was using a program called After Effects with an assistant and it just became really engrossing, rewarding and fascinating. At the end of that process, I had so much footage because like as with movies, you shoot so much more than you end up using. So I had a lot of footage around. I was going to have a show with Knoedler Gallery a few months later. It was going to focus on my text animations, and there weren't going to be any paintings in it. I was a little frustrated that I wasn't able to show any paintings because I am a painter! But then one day, I turned the projector onto a painting with a text animation playing, and the way it looked on the painting was really surprising–fascinating and mysterious. That got me interested in the really unique way what I call a “hybrid painting” looks. From there, I moved on to developing different kinds of video to project onto the paintings. It's really become a very important part of my practice.

Marjorie Martay–


That's fascinating. There was a saying by Tomi Ungerer and he said "Expect the Unexpected." In this case, that's exactly what happened, you didn’t know what was going to come from it. But a whole new thing came out of it which is phenomenal for you, and for us who are observing it. When you do these hybrid paintings, I think perception has become so important! Why is that so interesting to you?


Naomie Kremer–

You touch on something that's exactly on point for me. One of the things I notice is how I feel when I'm looking at something. When you're looking at a painting, your eyes might be moving, your body might be still or in motion. But, the painting you're looking at is not moving. You are creating the choreography of your perception. When you're looking at a video or a hybrid painting, you’re not quite sure where the surface plane is. For example, people say it looks like the hybrids are back-lit or rear-projected. You can't tell if it's in a deep space or a shallow space, foreground or background. You can't tell which part is the video and which part is the painting– that makes you aware of your perception. In that sense, I'm really interested in how the medium affects our mode of perceiving.

Marjorie Martay–


I remember when I came across your paintings when I was living in San Francisco. That was a time when I was raising money for one of the magazines we were working on and walked into Thomas Weisel Partners. I looked at a painting and I go, wow, this is so amazing! This woman is a great painter and then a number of years later, I got associated with Modernism where I met Martin Muller. It was a wonderful gallery and it turned out that he was representing you. How did that relationship start– in 1997?

Naomie Kremer–


That's right. Martin first saw my work at an event at our home. It was actually a presentation of the Exit Art Portfolios. I went to high school with the co-founder of Exit Art, Jeanette Ingberman. So we hosted this event and Martin came with Peter Selz, and they were walking around looking at the art. They noticed my work and Peter was really interested in it. He thought it was really good painting and asked me whose work it was and I said “It's my work!” So that was how we met. It was very fortuitous.

Marjorie Martay–


It’s been an amazing relationship in terms of a very supportive artist-gallery relationship.

Naomie Kremer–


Yes, really good. He’s a wonderful dealer. He's an intellectual–he's a reader, a thinker and a looker–he always brings very interesting points of view and he always tells me what he thinks. He doesn't try to influence me in any way, but he always tells me his opinion and I take it in as I take in everything. Sometimes I am affected by it and sometimes I think “no, that isn’t what I'm doing” and I carry on. But, he's always super supportive.

Marjorie Martay–


He's an amazing person. But he also has an amazing eye.

How would you describe your method of painting? What do you use as your inspiration?

Naomie Kremer–

That's changed over the years. Right at the beginning, actually in graduate school, I developed my mark making rhythm through listening to music. Basically I set myself a task of making marks to the beat of the music I was listening to, and not worrying too much about judgment. During the course of working, one of the hardest things is if you're constantly censoring yourself and worrying about it. Rhythmic music was a way of taking me outside of self-judgement and giving me a reason or an impetus to keep making marks. Then I discovered that the marks built into these clumps and the composition “made itself” through the physical motions based on the rhythms that I was listening to. Also, I started reading a lot of poetry around that time. I had a Master's in Art History, which meant I had a strong list of characters in my head, whispering art history, bringing all those things together.

Eventually I wore out the mark making thing. Then I started to use masking just to introduce a different kind of mark into my work. I also started stamping words onto my paintings. I thought of the marks as a kind of handwriting, and the beauty of it is that everybody has a hand writing! Never mind if it's good or bad but it's your own, it's your own unique mark. To accept that and work with that and develop that was really the beginning. But then once I got that established, I started to get hungry for other types of marks. Poetry influenced the words that I was stamping, and the marks in my paintings were influenced by music which created a rhythm. Masking provided a hard-edge. The other thing that's interesting about masking is that you can't see what you’ve masked while the mask is on, obviously. Then when you remove it, it's a surprise and an accident.

I always enjoy and welcome the possibility of accidents in my work because it lets instinct function. I'm always trying to enable the instinctive to come through. Of course then there's the moment of judgement when you do step back and you decide how you want to control what's come out. What do you want to get rid of? What do you want to add to? That’s how the paintings evolved.

On a Pedestal, 70" x 40" pigment and oil on canvas, 2020


Marjorie Martay–


When you're working on a painting, do you work on it over months? What is the time frame? Obviously, it depends on the size of the painting and what you're trying to do?

Naomie Kremer–


It depends. It varies quite a bit. In the beginning, when the work was really heavily market-based, I would spend months. Sometimes I'll work on a painting for a while then I'll put it aside and even think it's finished. When I come back to it either looks good to me or not - and sometimes it's improved just sitting there untouched! Then other times I think “I'm not really interested in that painting” so there's no reason to consider it finished, so let's keep going. One of the things I didn't mention is that I use scale as a way of helping me to lose myself– to minimize the judgment. I really loved working big. My very first big paintings in graduate school were seven feet by nine feet– they filled my peripheral vision. It’s a more fluid way of getting sucked in and being in the world of the painting, which is where you want to be.

In fact, that's my process. I spend time just looking at a painting when I come into the studio, especially when it's far along it's hard to know what to do next. I'm looking for a way to re-enter it. Once I can find one thing I want to do then I'm in again and I can keep going.

Wheeling Green, 2-minute video loop on 28" diameter 3D Holographic Display, 2019


Marjorie Martay–


It's always important to find that entrance into a subject that you're working on, and then how does that evolve from there? Especially if you started it and walked away from it, then you've got to get back into it. It’s an interesting point.

Naomie Kremer–


Yes, but sometimes it's easier when you've been away from it for a while because you're not attached. When you're close to it, working on it consecutively you become very attached to bits and pieces. You fall in love, and you want to hang on to things. When you enter the process of working, you've got to be willing to let it go and let it take you where it takes you. Putting it aside for a while and coming back to it, you become unattached, which is good.


Marjorie Martay–


Do you find that music changes the moods of paintings for you? Has that affected the way you work at?

Naomie Kremer–


I choose the music. Mostly I listen to abstract music. Very rarely do I listen to rock and roll. More classical or contemporary classical or rhythm– mostly Steve Reich, Philip Glass that kind of music. Opera sometimes.

Marjorie Martay–


Well talking about opera, how did you get involved with doing video backdrops for opera stage productions? It’s pretty fantastic what you've been able to accomplish. You did a great job for Tristan and Isolde at the Herbst Theater two years ago. Then Alcina in Acre, Israel in 2016 and then the San Francisco Opera– you did the Secret Garden there in 2013. Then you work with It's Margaret Jenkins Dance Company for Light Moves. So how did all that come about?

Figment, 98" x 28.5" oil on linen, 2019


Naomie Kremer–


Well, I had started to do animations of my paintings and the text animations around 2000. I had a friend who was a composer, Paul Dresher, and he made some music for one of my painting animations. He was friends with the director of the Berkeley Opera, Jonathan Khuner. They were going to do Bluebeard's Castle. It’s a one-hour opera– it's kind of hard to stage. There are only two characters and it goes a lot of different places but mostly kind of in the character's mind. So Paul brought Jonathan over to my studio and I showed him some of my painting animations. He was very interested, and he commissioned me to work on Bluebeard. I didn't quite know what I would do. It was really taking a leap. He expected me to do a few different scenes– some short videos, but in the end, I started at the beginning and worked my way right through the whole thing. I made a one-hour movie basically. I was very happy with it, and so was he. The audience loved it. It became the beginning. Margaret Jenkins saw that performance and asked if I would be willing to collaborate on a dance piece with her. She works with Paul Dresher as well–he does a lot of composing for her. She also works with the poet Michael Palmer. There were four of us on the team and it was a long process. She didn’t make the dance and ask me to then create the video. It was really a lock step process where each of us was doing our thing simultaneously and we were getting together, comparing notes, and making adjustments. It didn’t really finally all come together until a month and half before the first performance, which was kind of crazy. It was a very long-winded process, but also a very rich process. It inspired several paintings I made.

Marjorie Martay–


That's wonderful doing one aspect of your work can then lead to another aspect– and to create something totally new in a different medium. You've done that a number of times actually.

Naomie Kremer–


The different mediums really feed each other. I think back historically for example, Picasso worked in lots of different mediums from pottery to sculpture to painting to printmaking. They all really feed off of each other. I feel like video is a contemporary version of a medium that gives a painter another outlet, another way of developing work and feeding the other practices.

Marjorie Martay–


In terms of this wonderful show, that unfortunately closed at Modernism, but we can see it virtually which is fantastic, the way you and Modernism created a walk-through of the exhibit. I thought it was very well done.


"Embodiment (2020)" at the Modernism (Video Credit to Modernism)

Naomie Kremer–


Thank you! It took me three weeks to edit three and a half minutes.

Marjorie Martay–


What was the genesis of the idea for the exhibition?

Naomie Kremer–


By the way, it will reopen and it'll be open for a while. It was supposed to close May 2nd.
About a year-and-half ago now, I started to make video about the body. I became interested in videotaping nudes. I actually started with myself (like a self-portrait) and my husband. After working on that footage for a while, I decided to ask friends if they'd be willing to pose for me. Amazingly, many said yes. So I put up a big green screen in my studio and started the process. The green screen is so that then I can drop away the background and substitute whatever I want. It would take about an hour of shooting for each session, and didn't require anything too strenuous or demanding. I would give very simple directions–I was just looking for people's different ways of being in front of the camera. I had some couples who agreed to do it. I also had a couple with their 2 year-old. I also videotaped the father/husband separately – he’s a body trainer and he did an incredible routine of physical movements that not many people could do. Everybody moves in their own characteristic way– in a way that they feel. After the sessions, I worked with the raw footage and replaced the green screen background with all kinds of different content– from animations of my paintings to video of nature, and sometimes multiplying the figure on itself. I also “dressed” the nudes in new video content that seemed to have something to do with the story and the personality of the models.

Lilith hybrid, 50" x 50" pigment and oil on canvas, 2020


Marjorie Martay–


If I'm not mistaken, the show has six large-scale paintings. You did three hybrids and then 10 video works. There were all focused on the body. That’s a huge amount of work.

Naomie Kremer–


The room that the videos are shown in at Modernism is not that big– sixteen by sixteen feet. I am not showing all the portraits that I've done. There was no room to show them all. I took a selection and I hope to eventually have the opportunity to show a much bigger installation with more of them. The other thing I did as an interim step with these videos is I participated in a program in France called Nuit Blanche, which means white nights. There is one night a year– this last year it was October 5th, that there's art all over the city of Paris and it goes on from 7 p.m Saturday evening until 7 a.m. Sunday morning. I did an installation at a beautiful swimming pool from the 1920s. It’s an art deco public pool called Piscine de la Butte Aux Cailles. I did a special edit of all my subjects into one movie that was half an hour long on a loop. I put blue gel lights over all the lighting, and the pool was open for swimmers–it was heated to like 30° centigrade. It was steamy and warm, with the blue light and the movie playing–it was an incredibly special night. I also commissioned a score from a young composer, Adam Gottesman. That score also accompanies the installation at Modernism.


Naomie Kremer at "Embodiment (2020)", The Modernism

Marjorie Martay–


It sounds beautiful. I hope to be able to come to San Francisco and see it when it’s open. Talk to me a little about the different videos that you did show: Affirmations, Sundial, and Trinity?

Naomie Kremer–


Affirmation is with a couple I know– actually he was one of my photography teachers many years ago in college. By the way, I don't reveal the names of the participants. He and his partner are in their fifties or maybe early sixties. I'm not interested in people's perfect bodies, or people who look like models. They are African Americans and they have a unique relationship that translated beautifully. The video that I mixed with them is actually an adaptation of something I had done for the Wagner opera Tristan and Isolde, which is a story of a pair of lovers.


Marjorie Martay–


Do you find that the videos are something like your hybrid paintings? Is there a similarity there?

Naomie Kremer–


Yes and no. The videos are evolved in a similar way, but this installation is pure projection whereas the hybrid always involves projecting on something other than just a blank wall or a screen. Alcina, for example, was projected on the Crusader Courtyard walls in Acre in Israel. I consider that a hybrid because of these stones, which are a thousand years old, pitted, with subtle different colors, and huge. The effect was just really beautiful and unlike anything it would have looked like if it was projected just on a blank screen.

Marjorie Martay–


One of the things I found interesting is that you've been able to do different paintings. For example, Camouflage which was based on stills from the video. So that's another way that you've been able to utilize this interchangeable or interrelated way of working. You see that connection. I love it.



Camouflage, 50" x 50" pigment and oil on canvas, 2020


Naomie Kremer–

Sundial began with video of a couple who worked in the digital world. The pattern on their bodies is taken from a circuit board. They’re almost the same height, so I had them lie head to toe. Then I decided to spin the figures like a sundial, which tells the time. That's also what I felt they were doing–embodying their time.

Marjorie Martay–

That’s terrific– also, when I was looking at Camouflage, I felt like you can see this wonderful abstract way of painting– very thick and beautiful. I know people say your work looks like Van Gogh or De Kooning, but I also saw a little Monet there too.

Naomie Kremer–


Absolutely, I feel like Van Gogh painted air in a way that I very much identify with. When I started painting the way I do, I really felt like I was painting air molecules. The fullness of space– the idea that space is not empty, that it's actually full. Van Gogh also really paints the motion of air.

Marjorie Martay–


This exhibit was so impactful for me when I looked at it and when I received the invite from Modernism, I just said I want to reach out to you. That’s one of the reasons when I made this decision to do the blog about exceptional female artists and their work and how they're dealing with the virus. I just felt like you absolutely had to be a part of this! I'm so happy that we've been able to have this discussion today and I know your work is just going to continue to be as beautiful and as impactful as it has been. It will continue to be for many years to come.

Naomie Kremer–


Marjorie, I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to talk to you. It's been a pleasure. You have such great questions and I can tell how much you’ve looked at and thought about the work.


Marjorie Martay–


Oh, you're welcome. I hope that maybe someday in the future we can do something together. Who knows? I'll look forward to seeing you in San Francisco. Maybe New York, maybe even Paris.


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To see the more of Naomie Kremer's work, please visit: https://www.naomiekremer.com/


For further information about Kremer's exhibit at Modernism, please visit their website: https://www.modernisminc.com/artists/Naomie_KREMER/


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