Jennifer Kramer is a fine artist and art therapist. While she creates moving works of her own, Kramer also guides others to use the arts as a tool for growth. As a Registered Art Therapist Kramer’s wealth of knowledge relates different visual art mediums to mental and emotional states. In her practice, the act of expression is the key to finding one’s own voice or decoding the buried and locked parts of the self. The internal shifts that happen within the experience of art making itself can usher a person towards healing.
Kramer was raised in Louisville, Kentucky where she resides today. Growing up, Kramer and her twin sister were exposed to many forms of creative expression by their mother. Early on, she felt motivated to use the arts as a way to give shape and form to her internal states. Eventually, Kramer would study art therapy and use her gifts help others facilitate their healing process. “It’s not an art class. There are not right or wrong answers. There is no end result that they are trying to get. It is about expressing themselves. It’s about the process.” Each of Kramer’s sessions are a “judgement-free zone” where mental and emotional shifts that happen during the creative process are the focus. At the end of a session, Kramer calls the canvas “a visual representation of the process that you went through in the session and a metaphor for what you need to apply in your life.”
The ways in which materials relate to different emotional states is an important part of each session. Resistive versus fluid materials range from hard to soft. Easily controlled, resistive mediums (like pencils with hard lead) work best for those with an anxious temperament. Loose mediums, paints and soft pastels, can be freeing for some people, but overwhelming for others. “Initially, I observe what they gravitate towards,” she says, “I offer a variety of drawing materials and gauge whether they can handle paint or not.”
In her own art practice, Kramer balances the healing of free expression with the narrative quality of creating a series of work. Earlier in 2019, she was invited by Sojourn Gallery in Louisville to be a part of an exhibition. As the date drew near, the gallery asked her if she had enough work to be shown solo. Kramer went to the studio, refining unfinished pieces and expanding her overall concept for A Heart Made Visible. This collection of work chronicles her personal experience with emotional abuse. The buildup of those years turned into a diverse collection of work. “I would stand there with huge pieces of paper taped to the wall and run my fingers down it – filled with paint – letting out all my emotions onto that wall. It was a time of me just releasing all of the things that I needed to release,” she says. Kramer’s process often involves free-form expression with fluid materials, then a process of refining the overall message with lines and shapes.
A Heart Made Visible began with nine paintings featuring a circle, a symbol of completeness and, in this case, the survivor. Tranquil blue with an energetic shock of turquoise are accented by the grey cast of ocean pearls. We a see a person who is nurturing, relational. They move through the world radiating a light from within. In the proceeding images they are surrounded, caged, tossed about, invaded, and fragmented. In the final images a bright seed of hope grows larger and solidly present. These works tell a story of an uncomfortable, but tolerant, beginning, that leads to full-blown despair and loss of self. When the circle can no longer see itself for all of the darkness, it emerges to begin standing on its own.
Larger works continue to unfold the narrative of A Heart Made Visible. ‘I Am Making Sense of the Senseless’ is a graphic, defiant composition whose definitive qualities seem to smooth the wrinkles of the crumpled and torn canvas on which it exists. ‘I Challenge the Surface’ speaks of earth and ocean, of pushing through a pocket of darkness and peering into new territory. ‘I Am Commanding Calm’ portrays a figure that is feminine and dreamy, but with solid boundaries. The waves may crest around her, but she knows where she ends and the external forces of the world begin. Her vibrant identity is unmoved by what is happening around her.
Kramer began facilitating workshops for adults in 2019. Her workshops for women encouraged attendees to explore aspects of their identity through the arts. Today, Kramer continues to create in her studio in Louisville’s Mellwood Art & Entertainment Center. Learn more about art therapy sessions, and Jennifer’s own work at jenniferakramer.com.