My friend, artist Richard Crammer died Thursday morning. (He turned 56 on Monday.) On February 5, 2007 he was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma. His left leg was amputated and he underwent a series of chemo treatments which were unsuccessful.
I want to take a moment to share a couple thoughts about Richard and the gratitude I have towards him. His life and talent need to be celebrated and remembered.
First I'm grateful that I met Richard through GAIN (Gathering of Artists and Illustrators for Nature; a now defunct organization started for an obvious purpose). At meetings Richard was tall, quiet, often conspicuously the only male in the room, always funny (if in a quiet and self-dismissive way), and very talented. I always would sit next to him because I abhor meetings and he made the time just fly by. He was a bit of calm in a jangly atmosphere.
While he worked in many media during his life, by the time I met Richard he was working mostly with 7H and 9H leads creating the most intricate nature drawings. His drawings were delightful because of the observed detail and because of the unerring sense of complexity and simplicity he captured at the same time in his composition. His ability to render a range of values from dark to light with only a 9H pencil was amazing. I used to watch him work and simply shake my head. It takes a type of patience and dedication that cannot be learned. It's an inner discipline, that ultimately bends to the artistic sensitivity.
Later, in 2001 I ended up in Project Art for Nature with Richard. (See Richard's photo and another sample of his artwork at Richard's Project Art for Nature page.) For the first 3 years or so I worked on my own, though the other artists were in small groups or "pods." In 2003 or so when we reorganized with new members I was fortunate to be in a pod with Richard and two other talented artists, Diane Wesman and Gloria Williams. Upon ocassion we would get together to sketch. The four of us were rarely together, but we managed to go out sketching in pairs or threes.
I learned a lot from Richard about patience in nature (in the field), about detail in art, and about meeting life with a core of grace I doubt I'll ever see again.
Richard loved to talk about the camera lucida "controversy." And talk about it we would, each equally convinced that even if Ingres used one it still took phenomenal talent to make those drawings. We would mull over how other people "didn't get it."
Richard was a graduate of art school and had a depth of understanding about theory, history, and practice. I remember when he was first getting chemo, I went to visit him in the hospital and as soon as I entered the room he whispered conspiratorially, "did you see it?" He was thrilled that just outside his door there was a five foot George Morrison. Other folks just walked by. Richard always noticed things, small or large. Other folks would have been pissed off and bitter about the chemo, he had eyes for the Morrison.
I know a lot more about amputation, prosthetics, chemo, hospitals, pumping fluid out of lungs, you name it, because Richard shared what was going on with him. He told me it fascinated him. How could it not? It was real, it was what was happening. So we'd talk about it and he'd show off the wounds and tubes and attachments. He was childlike in his wonder and amazement at all that was happening, even though what was happening was the destruction of his body. People talk about keeping wonder alive, few people do it in normal circumstances, let alone manage to do it in extraordinary circumstances.
During our friendship Richard taught me a lot of things. I will always be grateful for his instruction in new ways to look at the world. And for his encouragement.
On fashion, when I bemoaned that fact that I didn't really get it anyway, "That's one of the things I really like about you."
On my frustration over how to describe my anthropomorphized bird portraits, "Expressionistic realism," his kind way of pointing out that the detail wasn't photographically accurate and after all "that wasn't the point was it Roz?"
And on so many other things. Even heavily medicated he did not lose his sense of humor, he did not lose his kindness and concern for other people.
Last week I was in the allergist's office waiting the mandatory 30 minutes after my shots. I picked up a Time Magazine and in the letter section there was a note about Paul Newman. A woman wrote in that she hadn't liked Robert Redford's remembrance of Newman because Redford had talked about himself too much in it. I searched the magazine stack for the earlier issue and read the piece, which I thought quite an honest tribute.
When someone enters our life we are the context in which we see that person. Our interactions frame our knowing of that person. I frankly think that woman was wrong. When we lose a friend we need to look at what that friend meant to us, through the lens of our relationship. It's all we have. It's what's real. And I think we should talk about it because we are all multifaceted. If we each share the impact one person has on us then the understanding of everyone increases on what it means to be human, kind, witty, and truly talented. Ultimately it's the only way to share that wonder about life. To keep it alive.
Richard always dragged his feet about self-promotion. For shows we were in together I had to bug him to get his artist statements written. He wrote a beautiful one for PAN which explains the wonder he understood in his life and expressed in his art:
When I was a child I always loved lying down in the woods and imagining
that I was as small as a mouse, walking through a forest of flowers
and plants. I am trying to reflect this dreaming in my drawings and
promote a reverential regard for even the smallest natural areas.
Everyone fortunate enough to see one of Richard's nature artworks in person will see how expertly he did exactly that. His friendship and art are just two gifts he gave to the world.