Bebe Krim­mer’s Santa Fe Years


Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Michael Abatemarco

The more you study a work of art, gaz­ing in­tently at its com­po­nents — a leaf on a tree in a land­scape, the lace on a dress in a por­trait — the more the over­all com­po­si­tion van­ishes. Peer closer still, and even in works of hy­per­re­al­ism, such familiar de­tails give way to re­veal a ges­tu­ral brush­stroke or the rough pat­tern of the can­vas be­neath the thin sur­face of paint. When you look closely at a pointil­list paint­ing, for in­stance, it be­comes no more than a se­ries of seem­ingly hap­haz­ard dots and dashes. Stand far­ther away, and it all co­a­lesces into a for­mal com­po­si­tion. The land­scape re-emerges, traces of white re­solve back into the lace pat­tern of a fig­ure’s dress, and we see the to­tal pic­ture.

The op­po­site ef­fect oc­curs in much of the work of Bebe Krim­mer, an artist who be­gan her life in 1930 in Chicago as Elaine Brams and who spent her last two decades living and work­ing in Santa Fe. Ab­stract com­po­si­tions that con­vey a sense of dis­ar­ray through seem­ingly jum­bled im­agery re­veal in­her­ent pat­terns and or­ga­ni­za­tion upon closer in­spec­tion, par­tic­u­larly in the work in­cluded in the ex­hibit Spa­tial Or­der , which opened at Chiaroscuro Con­tem­po­rary Art in 2013. “My view is that she was very in­ter­ested in the ten­sion be­tween or­der and dis­or­der,” her son Bob Krim­mer told Pasatiempo . “To me, at least, some of her work was a com­plete ex­plo­ration of dis­or­der, some of it was a com­plete ex­plo­ration of or­der, and some of it was at­tempt­ing to re­solve the ten­sion be­tween them. I al­ways loved think­ing about them that way be­cause I kind of felt that that was a uni­ver­sal strug­gle for every­body. Some­times I feel at peace when I’m look­ing at her stuff, be­cause she’s of­fer­ing a res­o­lu­tion to some­thing that’s very dif­fi­cult to re­solve.”

Bebe Krim­mer (1930-2014): The Santa Fe Years ,a ret­ro­spec­tive of her work made dur­ing the last 20 years of her life, opens at Chiaroscuro on Fri­day, March 27.

Krim­mer, end­lessly in­no­va­tive and an avid trav­eler and life­long learner, main­tained a deep in­ter­est in try­ing to un­der­stand the na­ture of life from the time she was a child. When she was in her late twen­ties, she had her name legally changed to Bebe. “When I was a tod­dler and be­gan to speak, I couldn’t say the word ‘baby,’” she told The Santa Fe New Mex­i­can in 2008, “so I would call my­self Bebe, and the name just stuck.” At the age of twelve she took classes at the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago and then at­tended the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois for her un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree. She re­ceived her mas­ter’s from the Illi­nois In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy. Krim­mer be­gan to ex­plore print­mak­ing, pro­duc­ing wood­cuts and cop­per etch­ings, for ex­am­ple, while also cre­at­ing paint­ings us­ing oils and acrylics.

The pieces in The Santa Fe Years cover a range of medi­ums that in­clude acrylic paint­ing, en­caus­tic works, and col­lage. In ad­di­tion to her own prac­tice, the artist taught at Barat Col­lege, the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois, and Columbia Col­lege in Chicago. Krim­mer and her hus­band, Bur­ton, moved to Santa Fe in 1993. Venues such as Klau­dia Marr Gallery and Karan Ruhlen Gallery showed her pieces be­fore she found rep­re­sen­ta­tion at Chiaroscuro. “Her work re­ally shifted in Santa Fe, com­pared with her Chicago years,” said Krim­mer’s daugh­ter, Tina Cooper, who is the trustee of the es­tate. “When she got to Santa Fe, her con­cepts ex­panded.”

Then tragedy struck in 1997, when the Krim­mers’ son Dan died from a brain tu­mor — and again, just two years later, when Bur­ton died of chronic liver dis­ease. The blows left Bebe un­able to paint for some time. But when she re­turned to her prac­tice, her work evolved again. She be­gan ex­plor­ing themes re­lated to the cos­mos and as­tro­nom­i­cal ob­ser­va­tions. “When Dan passed away, she re­ally started think­ing about the heav­ens and the uni­verse, where Danny was, and what was out there,” Cooper said. “While she did a lot of other work in that pe­riod, she kept com­ing back to that theme in dif­fer­ent ways. She has paint­ings that are named for star clus­ters and things like that.”

In­cluded in Chiaroscuro’s Krim­mer ret­ro­spec­tive is a port­fo­lio book that con­tains more than 200 images of works made be­fore the move to New Mex­ico, some of them dat­ing as far back as 1952. The added fea­ture gives vis­i­tors the chance to ob­serve how her work has changed over the years but also to see some of its re­cur­ring themes. Krim­mer trav­eled ex­ten­sively, tak­ing two or three ma­jor trips abroad each year. “She went to all th­ese ex­otic places and didn’t do the typ­i­cal tourist type of trip,” Cooper said. “She ex­plored the outer edges of coun­tries and cul­tures. As a trustee, I was putting to­gether the port­fo­lio book and ca­su­ally look­ing through her travel pho­tos and started see­ing con­nec­tions. Even when she lived in Chicago, I re­call her do­ing paint­ings based on where she trav­eled, but those were very de­lib­er­ate. In Santa Fe, it wasn’t so de­lib­er­ate but came through in a real pure, artis­tic way. Bob and I were amazed at the va­ri­ety of books she read.”

“We were amazed at the co­pi­ous notes we found in her books,” Bob said. “We were un­aware of the ex­tent of her read­ing and study. From the mo­ment she got up in the morn­ing, most days, un­til the mo­ment she fell asleep, she was in the process of experiencing life. She led the fullest of lives, but she didn’t talk about it. She was a doer.”

De­spite the per­sis­tent or­der and bal­ance that un­der­score her com­po­si­tions, Krim­mer never sketched out her work be­fore­hand. She brought to her prac­tice a de­gree of spon­tane­ity, let­ting the work evolve as it was be­ing made. “She com­posed al­most like a writer com­poses: It just flowed out of her in the mo­ment,” Cooper said.

With the help of a friend, Krim­mer wrote her own obit­u­ary be­fore she died. In lieu of flow­ers, she asked friends wish­ing to honor her to write down their re­mem­brances and send them to her chil­dren. “So many of those let­ters talk about how she was able to dis­cuss any­thing, whether it was reli­gion or cul­ture or lit­er­a­ture or movies,” Cooper said. “She was re­ally there for the other and not for her­self. She was just cu­ri­ous and con­tin­ued to be cu­ri­ous and brought that into her work very nat­u­rally and eas­ily.” “She was one of the most in­trin­si­cally mo­ti­vated in­di­vid­u­als I’ve ever known, in terms of her de­sire to cre­ate and her pur­suit of cre­ative im­pulses,” added Bob.


Bebe Krim­mer (1930-2014): The Santa Fe Years

Re­cep­tion 5 p.m. Fri­day, March 27; ex­hibit through April 25

Chiaroscuro Con­tem­po­rary Art, 702 ½ Canyon Road (in Gypsy Al­ley), 505-992-0711

Bebe Krim­mer: Self-Por­trait, South­west Friends (de­tail), un­dated, col­lage

Fallen Leaves (de­tail), un­dated, mixed me­dia

Col­lec­tion 24B (de­tail), un­dated, acrylic, col­lage, and nails

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