Queer artist's compelling 'Mark My Words' at SCH gallery

by Len Lear
Posted 2/16/23

Dawn Kramlich is a “text-based artist” whose compelling fusion of words with images can currently be viewed in the spring art show at the Barbara Crawford Art Gallery.

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Queer artist's compelling 'Mark My Words' at SCH gallery


Dawn Kramlich, a “text-based artist” whose compelling fusion of words with images can currently be viewed in the spring art show at the Barbara Crawford Art Gallery, is clearly not your calendar-greeting card, representational kind of artist.

Kramlich’s  “Mark My Words: Visual/Verbal Translations of Power,” includes work that uses various 2-D and 3-D media, encaustic paintings (a technique in which pigments are mixed with hot liquid wax), and laser-cut matboard installations. The show is anything but simplistic or traditional.

The exhibit, which opened Feb. 10 in the gallery based at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, shows off Kramlich's highly personal way of interpreting the text+image relationship in a way that she said “forces us to reflect on “our existence in a society that barrages individuals with memes, ads and digital conversations.” 

Megan Monaghan, the school’s director of arts, described Kramlich as an “incredible artist.” 

Kramlich’s work “centers on the examination of the text and image relationship,” Monaghan said. “SCH was thrilled to highlight both Kramlich's incredible artwork and its connection to the power of words. From Kramlich’s perspective as a queer American woman, 'There are few, if any, things more powerful and political than language.'"

Kramlich has certainly been earning lots of favorable buzz among the art world's cognoscenti. For example, Pamela J. Forsythe, of WHYY NewsWorks, has written, "Dawn Kramlich's 'A Solipsist's Cell' is pointedly prescient. In 'A Solipsist's Cell' and 'Minds' Forge' (2014), in which words pool on the floor like an oil spill, Kramlich portends a world in which language withdraws into ever-tighter knots until we no longer speak to one another but only to ourselves in an endless, reinforcing loop."

Chip Schwartz, a prominent local art critic, wrote for the Knight Foundation Blog, "Not unlike the appearance of the complex cosmos, Dawn Kramlich layers a number of mat board cutouts on top of one another for her [sculpture], 'I’ve Already Spent Too Much Time With You.' ... Capturing an instance of emotional confusion or frustration in one frame, this image is both rationally easy to understand and jarring at the same time."

Kramlich grew up in Texas and moved to Allentown in 2003, midway through high school. “Growing up in Texas, I did not realize I was queer,” she said in an interview last week. “I was not in a place to consider it because it was not safe. I came out later and put the pieces together. If you don't have examples and role models, you don't consider it a real thing. If a teen feels isolated, he/she is marginalized, othered, maybe even as an adult. My work reflects thinking about how language is the first step to shifting power.”

Kramlich, an English and Arts major and 2009 graduate of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, earned a master's degree in fine arts at Moore College of Art. She produced the first cross-major creative honors thesis (paintings + poems) in the history of Muhlenberg’s English and Art departments.

Today, she is an adjunct professor of art, sculpture and painting at her alma mater and at Penn State Abington. 

Referring to her “Capitalist Plaid” series (2019 to the present), Kramlich has written, “ … as an American, bisexual/queer, cis-gendered, white woman artist within our current political climate, this body of work evolved. It became the series 'Capitalist Plaid,' an examination of the larger consequences of late-stage capitalism within a society which commonly suggests that 'value' is only reserved for that which is quantifiable.”

Last week she said, “I'm constantly thinking about the use of language. In my work I will take a phrase spoken to me by men I do not know. 'You are too sensitive,' they will say. 

“We have certainly made progress in this country, which is great, but there is still a long way to go,” she continued. “I choose phrases that resonate with me as a queer woman but which also resonate with other people. I want to cause others to think more deeply.”

After college, Kramlich went to find where the art was. “New York was too chaotic. Too much of a beast to tame,” she said. “In Philadelphia I am able to feel the neighborhoods and communities. I love Philly grit and diversity.” 

The “Mark My Words'' exhibit will be at the Barbara Crawford Gallery, on the Springside/Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH) campus 500 W. Willow Grove Ave., until March 24. For more information, visit dawnkramlich.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com