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The Fun, Flat, Freedom of Al Kray's Rock n Roll Portraits

Montreal-based painter Alexandra Kraemer doesn't really like being told what to do, especially when it comes to what she loves. Good thing she loves zany, left of centre illustrations of soul musicians, old school rockers, and the Royal Family.

by VICE Staff
Feb 6 2014, 7:02pm

Andre Williams, super freak. All illustrations by Al Kray.

Montreal-based painter Alexandra Kraemer doesn't really like being told what to do, especially when it comes to what she loves. Art school? She tried that. Music lessons? Tried that, too. Time and again she's ditched the orthodoxy and figured out her own way to paint, play music and do whatever the hell else she wants, on her own terms. The results are always brimming with an honesty and rawness that is both eye-catching and refreshing. Her first solo show, which opens tonight in Montreal, features some of her awesome portraits, her hand made dolls, and music (her duo with her husband Bloodshot Bill—The Pouteens—will be performing) and you really should check it out. Anyway, we recently caught up with her and chatted about her process and how Andre Williams is a total perv (but not really). 

I read that you flirted with the idea of art school but that didn’t really pan out.
Yeah, I was there for one year. I was a Photo major, and thought it was really pretentious. Then chose painting and drawing, and I loved what I was doing. I had teachers who were really encouraging of my work. It taught me a lot of the technical stuff. Back then I already had my own style and a lot of the teachers were like, "Why are you really here?’" Then I tried the second year of painting and I got really frustrated with people telling me to paint differently and what to paint, so I just kinda dropped out a week before the final assignment. In retrospect, it’s pretty stupid, but I can’t have people tell me what to do like that.

Do you remember what they were telling you?
I was really comparing my stuff to everyone else’s realistic pieces. And I thought, here’s my child-like stuff, I was like my stuff sucks, but the teachers were like, "No, some really amazing artists have painted like this and that’s what’s coming out." So that felt really good. Then in the second year, I had this old school woman who was in her 60s. She was like, "Your stuff is too flat. You need to paint with more light and darkness." But I don’t see the world like that. I started to paint like that, and it made me hate painting, so I stopped for a few years. Then [my husband] Derek bought me a Laura Levine book and I thought, "If she can make money with her work, why shouldn’t I?" So I got back into it.

Yeah I like the flatness. It reminds me of African barber signs, there’s something raw and innocent about it. I like how you see the world as flat…
I really do. When I close my eyes and remember things, I remember the colours, I don’t remember the depth of things. It’s just not there in my brain, it’s really weird.

Little Richard getting Tutti Fruiti fresh.

Tell me about about the subject matter. There’s a specific world that you’re painting—the music world, the people you know, people you are a fan of.

It’s like a mix of everything. I think the Wanda Jackson painting was like the first time that I thought I’m totally gonna be OK with the way I paint and I’m not going to question it anymore. I really like Wanda Jackson, I’ve met her many times. Then I read this article on Lady Bo. Now, I love Bo Diddley and I was like “My god, he had a female guitarist?! How did that slip me by?” She was like the first paid guitarist. I was pregnant around the same time and thinking about what that was going be like, so I think I was looking at the role of women.

Did being pregnant have a big impact on your painting?
I was just looking around me, I was pretty confined to the house. The pregnancy wasn’t easy, so I was always staring at books and records we had, and I was just looking for what I found interesting then and then it just grew from there. For example, painting the Royal couple. I am not a gossip magazine person but they were everywhere, I was like whatever, they’re cute and hilarious [laughs]. But I like people who are unpretentious and real. I really like seeing Kate as all natural. She gave birth naturally, even though she could have had the most expensive and crazy interventions.

I’m not one of these, like, "tampon in the teacup" kind of artists. When you look at my stuff, there’s actually a lot going on, but I don’t like to dictate that either.

A royal portrait.

Have you met Andre Williams before?
Yes, I have. He’s hilarious. He’s just such a dirty old man, but I think he’s really innocent. He has so many dirty lyrics, but then you meet him and you realize it’s all talk. I think there are a lot of guys like that--they just like to let it all hang out and I think it’s really funny. Derek showed him a print and he was like “Yeah, these are all the women, I fucked them all! I’m gonna give this to my wife and tell her 'yeah, I fucked all these women!'”

You’re also in a band with your husband [Derek, aka Bloodshot Bill] called The Pouteens. What’s relationship between music and painting, Is there a similar approach?
Yeah, I drum very basically, too. I took drumming lessons when I was little and hated it. I just hear the baisc beat and I don’t care about anything else. I think it’s the heart of the song. I once thought, ‘I’m a super sucky drummer I shouldn’t do this. But then a lot of people who heard it were like, "Oh, this is so great and different. Then I saw the Gories and I met the girl and she was so great, I watched her videos and was like, Wow if she can do that and people like it, why shouldn’t I do something like that? I think the problem is that I compare myself to people who are totally different.

I think the thing I notice again and again is that my hands love to make things. When I try to think it doesn’t work anymore but when I just let it happen, it’s really good. I just try to listen to my heart, because as soon as I start thinking about how I should do it, it doesn’t work anymore.

The Al Kray Art Show is tonight at the Casa Del Popolo (4873 St Laurent Blvd), 5-7.