As patrons enter the Welcome Grant Art Gallery in Virginia City after a white-knuckle drive up a slick Geiger Grade, owner and proprietor Peter Kraemer may greet them from the mezzanine loft of the gallery.
Sometimes, he’ll even provide a soothing nerve balm in the form of a café latte, which he makes in his upstairs apartment.
“Just stay awhile; you’ll be fine,” he’ll reassure.
Those fortunate enough to get the VIP treatment (OK, maybe he only extends this courtesy to visiting reporters) can chat with Kraemer about his family’s artistic history. He’s a former student of the San Francisco Art Institute, a Bay Area art school. Kraemer’s mother, abstractionist Zoray Andrus, was a 1930 graduate of what is now the California College of Art. He points out some of her work on the apartment’s walls. He says she studied under Hans Hoffman, a prominent painter from the period, a distinction few female artists were afforded.
Andrus gave her son this building, which she originally opened as an art gallery in 1947, and his love of art and music. He’s had some success with all three. Kraemer’s band, Sopwith Camel, gained some acclaim in the ‘60s and enjoys cult status today. The gallery is full of art and art books, each with a story that Kraemer can tell from the marvelous single-plank table he made.
Kraemer’s current paintings exhibit a certain looseness, illustrating the ease with which the paint is moved about the heavy rag paper in broad, thoughtful strokes. A saxophonist, Kraemer likens this series of paintings (created on a ferry boat in the Bay) to “Abstract Expressionist horn playing,” entertaining and playful while deliberate. Bold bands of color intersect each other, creating deeper spaces, while heavy textures and drips meander through the space, or sometimes zoom right out of the picture plane.
Kraemer lately has revisited his penchant for photography, showing a number of his new series of digital photographs. There are no manipulations of the images once he snaps the shutter. “You have to draw the line somewhere,” he says.
The displayed photographs center on elements of the Nevada landscape as colorful forms in space, creating elegant compositions that ask the viewer to look beyond the mountains and the brush, elevating rust and dirt to a more sophisticated level. For example, one photograph shows two burnt-orange boxcar axles resting together in the foreground as the railroad track snakes behind, the milky snow gathering around the dusty greens of sagebrush.
The gallery houses an overwhelming medley of works by Kraemer’s artist chums: Edw Martinez’s prints of skulls and hairy hearts greet you at the door, along with some of his doll sculptures, one dressed in a Halloween sock. Walter McNamara’s large ceramic arrowheads join some sculptures from the Ghost Skull series and a few collages, along with Lynda Yuroff’s inky peacock paintings—one of which is framed with a feather-inspired frame. A wonderfully quirky cast of creatures made from found objects and clay are brought to life by Marko Yamagata and peer down from many corners and shelves. Enigmatic ceramic forms by Marta Walloff beg to be classified as dangerous, playful or sexual but remain tiny riddles for each viewer. Balinese mermaids float from the light fixtures, and bird-like kites perch on the molding above; a pile of Chinese folk-painting prints wait to be shuffled through as they lean on a chair.
And Kraemer is correct: The road to Virginia City, which can be worrisome on a winter day, is easily forgotten when you fold yourself into art and friendly ambience.