First published: Summer 2023


Recurring characters and their shapeshifting descendants exist in baffling planes, making JJ Cromer’s work familiar, fascinating and unsettling


Since the early years of this century, JJ Cromer has produced more than 20 series of works – each containing anywhere from ten to 89 drawings – in addition to numerous independent pieces of art. Engaging with Cromer’s visual sagas can be like negotiating one’s way through the pages of one of Max Ernst’s surrealistic collage novels, such as The Hundred Headless Woman (1927) in which Andre Breton’s foreword reads: “Many of these pictures, full of agitation all the more extraordinary for its cause being unknown to us […] give an illusion of the veritable slits in time, space, customs and even beliefs.”


A Shared Plume (That Nose Doesn’t Belong to Just You Anymore), 2023, 8.5 x 11 in. / 21.5 x 28 cm


With Cromer’s work, we encounter much the same mystery and come away with an intuitive feeling or impression, more than a precise understanding of what is going on. Unlike the montages of vintage, pulp-magazine line drawings and catalogue illustrations that comprise Ernst’s visual novels, Cromer employs far fewer components appropriated from outside sources, and yet a substantial portion of each composition is composed of elements he has previously drawn and cut up with scissors (or scalpel), then reconfigured as collage elements in a new work.


Nock 34, 2018, 6.5 x 8 in. / 16.5 x 20.5 cm


John James Cromer was born to science teacher parents in Princeton, West Virginia, in 1967 and grew up in Tazwell, Virginia. He received a BA in history from the University of Wyoming, an MA in English from the University of Western Kentucky, and a Master of Library and Information Science at the University of Southern Mississippi. He went on to work in a library and married a fellow librarian, Mary (now an environmental lawyer), and they lived on her family farm in rural Virginia.


Always Thought Those Neighbors He Loved Were Thieves, 2022, 8.5 x 11 in. / 21.5 x 28 cm


“Our boss was an asshole, a micromanaging tyrant,” Cromer recalls. “When I started making art, part of it was in the spirit of our marriage (we wanted to live with art, so I tried to make it, with love). But the other part of my motivation was clearly rooted in a ‘fuck you’ to my boss. He could micromanage me at work, but art was mine. I was beholden to neither tradition or him or anyone. I worked every night after Mary went to bed. These were my mistakes to make and learn from. I would work until 1 or 2am every night, waking at 7am to go to work. I did this for years. Before I went to bed, I would pin new drawings to the bookshelf in front of our bed. Every morning upon waking, Mary would see my new efforts.”




This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #115.

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