David (left) and Leslie Kramer, 31 Ledgewood Road, Kingston, Rhode Island, 1994 [Photo: Shrine creator]
Talker readers know the omnipresent presence of Leslie Kramer: in parks, on trails, in parades, in space suits, in arcades, in cemeteries, in vintage automobiles, in universities, in South America, in beach houses and in weddings.
Less well known is that Leslie’s mother established shrines throughout the family home when Leslie moved to California and broke her heart.
Leslie is always the goody-twoshoes daughter: well behaved, neat, high achieving, polite and sweet tempered. By contrast, I am the ADD-ish son.
Case in point. One Easter we both received white chocolate bunnies. I impulsively ate mine in as few bites as possible. Delaying gratification, Leslie stowed her white chocolate bunny in her closet for future consumption.
I then periodically snuck into the closet, slicing off and eating small portions of the bunny. After enough thievery, I realized the bunny had shrunk so substantially my crime was sure to be detected. So I confessed. True to her nature, Leslie forgave me, merely suggesting I could make it up to her — and my conscience — at a future date.
Years later, Leslie was accepted into Brown University. A few years later, I too applied — and was accepted! Naturally, public sentiment was that I was a legacy selection, riding on Leslie’s coattails.
This weekend Leslie was visiting, making her usual pilgrimage to the artistic and photographic shrines adorning the home.
This painting in the dining room — created in childhood in 1967 when she was seven years old — is generally considered Leslie’s precocious masterpiece made before she was formally introduced to cartography. Critics marvel at her imaginative rendering of the continent of Europe of which apparently she had no knowledge — now considered a preternatural homage to Matisse.¹
When not viewed from a restrictive literal lens, the red flower-like blob on the left is France. Beneath France is the Iberian Peninsula in orange. Above France is the English Channel and the United Kingdom and Iceland above. The pinkish image is clearly Italy jutting into the Mediterranean. The sunfloweresque blotch is either Sardinia or Corsica. In the center of Europe in blue is Germany; Switzerland in orange; the Low Countries are white with a black center. Above Germany is Scandinavia: Denmark, Sweden and Finland on the Baltic Sea. Poland is yellow with Warsaw imagined as a red dot. The Balkans are positioned next to the Adriatic. As Europe merges with the Levant, Turkey and the Holy Land become highlighted. The vast Steppes of Russia fan out in a blue expanse, while Estonia and Lativa are enigmatically pictured in the upper right, striped in yellow and red. The problematic and person-looking figure in the center of the swath of Russian blue complicates geographic interpretation: some view the image as a political symbol of the clash between the then-existing USSR and NATO.
In my reading, the painting deconstructs and defamiliarizes notions of fixed geopolitical boundaries by reconfiguring nations as potentially fluid — malleable aesthetic entities rather than immovable structures of power. The work anticipates an unsettling globalist future.
On her pilgrimage, Leslie visited the shrine installed in the bedroom of her girlhood.
Here Leslie poses in the kitchen shrine.
As her visit reached its conclusion, Leslie attempted to abscond with artifacts. Her intemperate shrine-robbing escape was ultimately thwarted.
¹ Dr. Andrew Weinstein, Department of the History of Art at
SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology, says of Leslie’s piece: “Nice painting in the tradition of Asger Jorn and other Informel artists.”
NOTE: Opinion varies as to whether Leslie, 1967 represents Cold War Europe. Some see nothing. My artist friend in California does. Thilde writes,”I see Europe I see France I also see Italy’s underpants “