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interview: jj cromer

︎Artist, Illustration, Abstract, Interview   
︎ Ventral Is Golden


"The artist is engaged in writing a detailed history of the future, because he is aware of the unused possibilities of the present." - Wyndham Lewis

We interviewed American artist JJ Cromer and delved into his vast oeuvre of abstract asemic painting that exist in the temporal voids between technology, agriculture, politics, spirituality and visual communication.



By the mid 1950's, media theorist, Marshall McLuhan, started to expound his theory of the differences between the role of the artist throughout various societal evolutions. He began with the tribal, 'pre literate' society, moving into modern 'literate' society of the industrial revolutions, through to the 'post-literate' society of the electronic age. McLuhan viewed the artist as a Distant Early Warning system, who would be sensitive to the effects of future events as a result of probing the immediate environment.




How much of your environment has influenced your artistic output?

I grew up in rural Virginia. I still live in rural Virginia. My wife, our two year old, and I, live on a small farm in the mountains. It's a very conservative and religious area. Mary, my wife, still works as a nonprofit attorney assisting individuals and groups affected by coal mining. I have tried before to make overtly political and activist art, but it's failed. We're liberal and not religious, and we vote and make other decisions accordingly. We're predictable that way. But my art moves ambiguously. Social and political issues inform my work; but it's always an evening light, a little slanted. We're hopeful the economy here (for a long time based mostly on resource extraction) can evolve into something more sustainable and creative.

In short: vis-a-vis where we live, I think there's hopefulness in my work. It might also be a dead or dying canary. I don't know.



Was there a particular group of artists or a set of ideas that you resonated with, past or present, with regards to why you create the work that you do?

Currently I’m thinking about the Hairy Who and Chicago Imagists, a number of artists associated with Dada, and quite a few self-taught/outsider artists. And children’s books. We’re reading a lot of children’s books.

What did you do before you started making art work?

I went to school to be a librarian. I’ve worked in public and academic libraries.




How would you describe your art work? For me, some of your pieces blend the boundaries between art, design, anatomical textbooks, info graphics, glyphic alphabets.

My work is a kind of filter for me. We’re watching the new Twin Peaks, so right now I think of art as a dream mechanism that helps me move through the waking world.




“In any current piece, I believe, there’s at least one revelation (meant for me). This revelation may be small and inconsequential to the overall piece and overlooked by anyone else, but it’s still very important to me.”


I’m reminded of the Codex Seraphanius, or the Voynich Manuscript. What is it that you’re trying to communicate, if anything, through this approach?
My father was a cryptographer in the 1950s, and I currently still live in the Bible Belt, in central Appalachia. Codes, glossolalia, nonsense, double talk, neologisms, automatic writing, asemic writing, etc. have always interested me.

I’m happy when my work connects with others, or if they choose to live with it, but this doesn’t drive my work. I’m more interested in the act of emptying than filling. I’m not an illustrator (nothing against illustrators!).
There’s an automatism to the way I work. I’m not at all religious so I’m fairly certain I’m not receiving godly messages. Besides, I have zero interest in proselytizing. I’m hostile to it, actually. As an artist, however, I do have a basic faith (aspiration, drive, not sure how to describe it). I believe my work knows where I should be going as an artist and that my work is (or it could become) smarter (wiser, better) than I am.




In any current piece, I believe, there’s at least one revelation (meant for me). This revelation may be small and inconsequential to the overall piece and overlooked by anyone else, but it’s still very important to me. Its purpose is always to show me the way forward into the next piece. I just have to find it. More often than not, the next piece comes from following the trajectory of an accident, or from rethinking a mistake, a personal alchemy. To anyone looking I’m over here in the corner talking to myself, but I like drawing and making collages, so it’s what I do!

BTW: I received editions of both of those books (Codex Seraphanius, Voynich Manuscript) this last Christmas.













Further Reading ︎
Artist Website
Artist Bio, Avam.org


Mark