“I was born and raised in Providence. I’m locally grown organic,” says cartoonist and illustrator Matthew Kramer. Kramer graduated from Brown with an MFA in Literary Arts and works as a freelance artist. They just returned from Paris where they completed a three month poetry residency.
“There’s always people in the parks lounging in Luxembourg Gardens. People cuddling and drinking and eating cheese, you know how it is. At the time I was asked to do this cover I had been doing one of these [park] drawings. I was thinking about Prospect Park, how at the beginning of the school year so many students lounge on the green and I wanted to do a scene like that of Providence.”
Kramer works in a fairly minimalist style that emphasizes balance and movement.
“I try to have each line form an icon, which becomes an image in the way that letters form words in sentences. Sort of creating my own language. I’m severely dyslexic and I’m very interested in accessibility, I think that’s how I got my style. When it comes to watercolor, I like a messier, more lush style. That’s what I’m working on now and what you’re seeing on the cover.”
Prior to Paris, Kramer spent a year in Mexico, next up they’re going to New York. They’re currently at work on multiple freelance projects including designing an embroidered jean jacket for Agnes Lab in Mexico, and they have a chapbook coming out this fall from Bottlecap Press.
“[The chapbook’s] about masks. I fell in love with masks in Mexico. Superheroes wear masks but at the same time masks are a way to metamorphosize as a person. Some of the oldest examples of art we have are masks. I started drawing them because I was in love with the masks of Mexico, then I started pairing them with poetry, about things everyone’s thinking but not saying, kind of an internal monologue. Most of my poetry is about everyday speech, when everyday speech becomes poetic. Everyone has these clairvoyant moments or moments of lucidity where they say something and it comes across as poetic and sticks with you. I collect those and create poems with them.”
Kramer notes the Fluxus movement, Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit, and Věra Chytilová’ Daisies as their primary inspirations and influences, as well as going for walks.
“I try to draw colors from the world around me. The thing about Providence is no matter where you go – South Side, West Side, Fox Point – the houses are so beautiful and the people are so friendly. Providence sometimes looks like a little doll house. The thing I always come back to is how lush and overgrown it is. It has this feeling of nature cracking through cement. The way people keep their lawns isn’t particularly manicured. There’s a lot of deciduous overgrowth and it’s usually mixed with a beautiful scattering of trash, those are the scenes I’m drawn to. When I see into a Providence backyard and I see a chair that’s lying on its side and an old party hat and grass that’s been left to grow 3-ft tall and there’s a rose bush that’s totally unattended and overgrown that inspires me. The fact that people leave in the summer and it gets really overgrown is something I love about Providence.”
As for being a working artist, Kramer says it’s lonely and hard and competitive, but they can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I’m living in a bunch of different countries and I’m making art and people are like ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing. I wish I could do that.’ And I’m like, ‘It’s hard and brutal and lonely.’ When someone wishes they could do it but they don’t, there’s a reason. You have to want it. I don’t know if I love making art or if I hate everything else more. The idea of being in an office actually makes me wanna die. If someone tomorrow was like, ‘We came up with this job that you love, here. It pays a shit ton and you love it.’ I’d be like, ‘Cool. I’m doing that.’ But unfortunately, that doesn’t exist… [Art’s] a real game of who sticks with it the longest. The people who are successful are the people who just didn’t give up.”
Matthew Kramer’s work has been published in Tin House, The New Yorker Online, and The Iowa Review, among others. See more of their work at matthewckramer.com or follow them @canttakemeanywhere.