“I love the smell of blood on the snow,” Slovenian rocker Peter Mlakar revealed to Charles Krafft in 1998. “If I could bottle that scent, I’d create a new fragrance for the 21st century and call it forgiveness.”
Krafft wasn’t offended by Mlakar’s flippant dismissal of bloodshed as they gazed at the bombed out ruins of an Olympic village from the recent Balkan war. In fact, it merely inspired him for yet another series of Nazi- and genocide-themed art he’s been producing for years.
Seattle’s “bad-boy” artist, Krafft was slow but just beginning to achieve recognition in the art world after years of labor as a self-taught and meandering artist. During a trip to Eastern Europe (1995) with members of industrial rock band Laibach and Slovenian art collective NSK, Krafft met with black market arms dealers and picked up a few Kalashnikovs and AK-47s.
Thus began decades of cast ceramic Uzis, grenades, Thompson assault rifles and all variety of lethal weaponry. Delicately hand-painted in the traditional Dutch Delftware art and often quite eerily beautiful, they stopped gallery guests in their tracks. In keeping with the fratricidal theme, shaving mugs of Hitler, Charles Mansion the North Korean Kim family became an entire line of decorative butchers.
Clashing, discordant symbols and a harsh visual incongruity eventually brought Krafft’s work to the attention of art dealers around the world as a pioneering pop surrealism ceramicist. Swathed with Swastikas so thick they could work as his logo, it seized the imagination of collectors and the public who perceived it as kitschy contempt. The “forgiveness” line from death rocker Mlakar was incorporated into a line of perfumes, soaps and artwork all based on the Holocaust. Krafft’s “Disasterware” series celebrates wars, devastation and death as general regalia.
He was doing well, even receiving grants from the NEA and George Soros-funded groups to help finance his trip to the Balkans in the middle of the war there. Krafft was assisting NSK and Laibach on their “Occupied Europe: NATO” tour as well as helping them establish their own “sovereign nation,” including currency and passports.
Even Jewish collectors bought his work, assuming it was a form of mockery (pompous Hitler on a silly teapot ) or ironic statement through contradiction. Krafft’s misleading and vague statements kept that going.
In a Salon interview he insisted, “I’ve always had a knack and a penchant for going toward humorous irony.”
And about the Nazi paraphernalia? His intentions are merely to create “life-size ceramic weaponry so gorgeous and patently functionless that it will bedazzle and confound everyone who sees it.”
His future goals toward that end include full-size Scud missiles and nuclear bombs in “pure white porcelain.” Is this just Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a big kiln?
Krafft’s work continues to dip darker and deeper into anti-Semitism, anti-Christianity pro-Nazi and genocidal realms. Images of Hitler are especially emotionally discordant and disturbing to a point I find spiritually pornographic. See tender Hitler embracing a wailing and emaciated Jewish child prisoner with horrific signs of torture or disease. Just as gruesome is a Swastika cross with Jesus and a Nazi.
Allusions to Nazi “products” are intentional and aggressive, such as “Spone,” a line of ceramic crossbred china with ground human bone, supposedly for memorial work or reliquaries, along with gold teeth and such. Over it all hangs an aura of militarism and violence and almost a stink of death like his brand. But no one noticed or remarked much because art can’t be questioned – it’s a rule.
Life was unperturbed in the Krafft studio of horrors until recently when the art world suddenly “discovered” he was a neo-Nazi, white supremacist and Holocaust denier – for starts.
Jen Graves, astute art critic for Seattle’s ultra-liberal paper The Stranger happened upon an unexploded art-world bombshell: Krafft’s 2012 interview with publisher Greg Johnson of Counter-Currents Publishing, where they avidly discuss Holocaust denial and white supremacy.
Johnson’s book line includes titles like Savitri Devi’s “Forever and Ever: Devotional Poems” (to Hitler) and other works dug up from the dung heaps of history. In a podcast on the site Krafft clearly reveals his distaste and malice for Jews.
“Jews are not white,” he said. “They are obsessed with their own group’s best interests, not ours.
“The Holocaust is a myth,” he added, and most chilling: “We will not allow them [Jews] to hide amongst us.”
Physical proofs mean nothing to a man who asserts to the Seattle Times, “I’ve walked the camps and saw a gas chamber that I believe was a set built … to make a newsreel.”
Or that concentration camp photography was doctored and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. is a “fraud.”
Revelation of Krafft’s Nazi leanings last spring lead to a series of horrified columns in Seattle papers, Huffington Post, Salon and even the New York Times with most art critics distancing themselves as fast as their fingers could type.
I understand their reaction but find it amusing that no one caught on to his little game. Krafft could as well stood screaming on a downtown street corner with a sign, “Hey I’m a Nazi! Someone figure it out!”
He’s “outed” himself repeatedly on many media platforms but doesn’t fit the liberal perception of a crude, finger-in-his-nose Southerner.
Krafft and many associates with are clever Nazis – well read and quite literate. When Jena Scott of Seattle’s ArtResource refused to accept his work any longer she acknowledged, “He’s an intelligent, articulate guy who I respected throughout the years, and it just makes me sad.”
Recent revelations haven’t brought any excuses or remorse form Krafft, just a little self-pity when he asks disingenuously asks why he’s being attacked: “It doesn’t make me feel good.”
Sales of his work are still strong according to his website and a few galleries. A note reminds customers, “Due to high demand for Krafft’s work, most of the pieces are made to order with the lead time of 2 to 3 months.”
Still, on his Facebook page Krafft looks to gain support posting, “Holocaust studies is an academic echo chamber.”
His “friends” are equally cool, finding soulless humor in concentration camps as if it were an abstract entity entirely remote to them.
A few gems off his page: “Q. What do Nazis and Lays Potato chips have in common?
A: Betcha Can’t Hate Just One!”
And this entrenchedly perverse bit offered by friend Joel Kimball: “There’s no business like Shoah business.”
After these revelations, some writers and collectors publicly beat their breast with guilt by association. They seriously questioned (perhaps for the first time) whether personal ethics and intent should ever be considered in the promotion of an artist. Are there some issues that should just be rejected? Is it possible some thinking is actually wrong – or even … evil?
Censorship is the one unforgiveable sin in the art world, but Krafft’s outrageous and deceitful behavior forced a stained ideology uncomfortably into the spotlight, and it’s too vivid to just fade away. Friends and business associates are in turmoil at the revelations, and the fate of his collections in museums is at risk.
But publisher Adam Parfrey Feral House lightly dismisses Krafft as a brilliant creative. Parfrey lists his black friends, years of interest in Buddhism and sojourns in India as evidence of the artist’s Seattle hip-worthiness and by association, decency. Nothing to worry about here.
From the Feral House website: Feral House doesn’t shy away from points of view we don’t necessarily agree with, and so do some of our friends. Despite his occasional idiocy, we love Charlie Krafft.”
Several writers have done excellent and thoughtful pieces revealing Krafft’s Nazi associations and analyzing the complications it brings to his art. But why is anyone surprised now?
It took this long to perceive Charlie Krafft’s open contempt for Jews and admiration for Hitler because of a high tolerance for very ugly stuff. Specifically the most virulently anti-Christian and Jew hatred is a staple and perfectly acceptable in contemporary art circles.
While at least half of the art world soaks up far-left Marxist ideology, the flavor of Stalin’s Jewish purges can’t help but seep in. It’s unavoidable and hardly all right-wingers exuding Nazi principles. When Hitler wouldn’t let Jews escape to Palestine in 1938 but began to exterminate them, we all acknowledged the evil. In 2013 Hamas has similar goals to drive Jews “into the sea” along with endless almost daily missile attacks and annihilation campaign.
Palestinian leadership is just as forthright and unabashed over their lethal racism as Krafft is with historical revision. The left in response initiates a political, financial and cultural public relations campaign, re-casting terrorists as victims and Israelis in general as evil aggressors.
Websites proclaiming progressive leanings such as “American Samizadat” extolled Charles Kraftt a decade ago claiming he “ought to be an art superstar.”
On the same page they add their own literary touches: “Citizens of France, Italy, Sweden, the USA, the U.K. … marching arm-in-arm, chanting in Italian, French and English. We were (are!) the International Solidarity Movement to end the occupation of Palestine.”
Following this lovely scenario is an entirely fictional account of being shot at by Israeli soldiers. Why was this necessary?
There’s the anti-circumcism campaign dredging up actual Nazi images of crazed, knife wielding rabbis from San Francisco to the Middle East and parts between. Academically approved, anti-Semitic art campaigns are so common it would fill a book (with fine print). Progressives: reinventing anti-Semitism day by day.
Perhaps that’s why neo-Nazis and other Jew-haters in the arts and elsewhere won’t go away soon. Not as long as they only hate Nazis with German accents and whole heartedly support the newer versions.
Thanks Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic.com, The Stranger/Jen Graves, Nicole Brodeur/Seattle Times and Salon.com/Samuel Satin.