We let Charles Krafft fool us

Revelations about the artist's Nazi leanings were shocking. More shocking still was how long it took to out him

Topics: The Weeklings, Charles Krafft, The Stranger, Seattle, Nazism, Hitler,

We let Charles Krafft fool us
This article originally appeared on The Weeklings. It has been corrected since it first published.

The Weeklings CHARLES WING KRAFFT, the self-taught painter turned postmodern ceramicist, is famous for his ‘Disasterware’ collection, a term he coined for the melding of violent, often Fascist imagery with tawdry vessels. He’s fashioned everything from ceramic grenades with bio-weapons decaled in antiquated blue to perfume bottles appliquéd with swastikas. Krafft’s work has been featured in prominent news outlets such as Harper’s and The New Yorker and is on permanent display at the Seattle Art MuseumHe’s received endowments from the Soros Foundation and the NEA. Enthusiasts celebrate, or at least used to celebrate, what they believed to be Krafft’s insidious sense of irony that took a darkly comedic take on twentieth-century disasters, not to mention a vicious stand against political iconography in all forms. In 2009, art critic Jen Graves of The Stranger featured Krafft’s ceramic AK 47 on the magazine’s cover, admittedly duping herself concerning the artist’s perceived identity as an ‘iconoclast.’

It wasn’t until recently, however, that Krafft’s ugly allegiances bubbled to the surface, mostly discovered via Facebook rants, podcasts, and interviews with some of his close friends. Priscilla Frank at the Huffington Post linked to a particularly condemning podcast on The White Network, a site that officially hosts “Whites Talking To Whites About White Interests.” On July 28, 2012, Krafft admitted on air, “I believe the Holocaust is a myth.” He then proceeded to list more of his beliefs about the downtrodden state of white identity and the Jewish threat. You can listen to it here, if you’d like, though be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Then came an article by art critic Jen Graves in The Stranger“Charles Krafft Is a White Nationalist Who Believes the Holocaust Is a Deliberately Exaggerated Myth.” Graves points out that many of Krafft’s closest friends have denounced him in recent months for being a bigot. For example, Fred Owens posted a comment on the artist’s Facebook page in January outing him as an anti-Semite with conspiratorial views ranging from Protocols theories to something you’d find on Stormfront. Krafft responded to Owen’s accusations of bigotry with comments such as “Why amongst the monuments glorifying the history of this nation in Wash DC is there a museum of horrors dedicated to people who never lived, fought, or died here?” He also goes on to post links to Holocaust Denier Paul Eisen and youtube videos dealing with Jewish conspiracies during the Opium Wars. He doesn’t have much more to hide, it seems, for there’s a lot more where that came from.

After Graves’ story dropped this bombshell on the art world, the question lingered: How could we (his fans) not have known? Jillian Steinhauer on the website Hyperallergic covered multiple reactions to Krafft’s outing as a bigot, from white nationalists avowing that Krafft had become the victim of a Jewish media smear campaign, to others angry over the hipster-centric lust for irony that led to the West Coast arts community shunning what should have been the obvious. Steinhauer takes the following quote from Seattle blogger Clark Humphrey on the subject of consumer awareness: “Like many participants in and observers of the Seattle visual-art scene, I’ve long known about Krafft’s open admiration for neo-Nazis and Holocaust revisionist pseudo-scholars. He didn’t keep his views secret. They just hadn’t been written about in the local arts media, prior to Graves’ article.”

Clark wasn’t the only one to speak up on the subject. The aforementioned Fred Owens maintains that the artist had admittedly practiced a quiet, Anglican-style anti-Semitism for many years, writing the following to Graves in an email: We should “not just blame Charlie for this but the entire arts community of Seattle which has proven to be soft-headed. As I said when I wrote about this, it would never happen in Brooklyn or Boston—people would just kick his ass down the block. But Seattle has a misguided kind of false tolerance going on here, so there is a lesson for all of us in this.”

Owens’ email, in all its terse wisdom, doesn’t necessarily need to be confined to the Seattle art scene. If Krafft was an avowed neo-Nazi for years, why is it that no one bothered to report on what may have very well been an obvious link between his personal views and his iconography? An even more compellingly question: why is it that in the art world (which includes everything from literature to film) we are so bent on maintaining separation between creation and creator?

In WomenCharles Bukowski refers to the ethereal element of creative expression as the ‘godhead,’ implying a purity of consciousness that exists above the level of the creator himself in a time when he or she is taken by inspiration. A similar sentiment is echoed in MFA programs throughout the nation, postulating that even if artists are violent, sexist, predatory, racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic, that their work rises above the mortal realm, and generally shouldn’t be talked about in the context of personal fault. Sometimes, the discourse takes on the dimensions of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, as if we don’t have a right to breach the sacred barrier between mind and meld. Of course, if an artist, such as Krafft, is openly exposed as a bigot, his reputation will be devalued in the mainstream, but that was because Jen Graves was brave enough, or outraged enough, to expose it. Many may have been content averting their noses from the stink emanating from the gallery walls.

There is both reason and argument to art standing on its own. A successful sculpture, novel, painting, or film is less effective when you know the daily habits of the man behind the curtain. But it does make one wonder what secrets are harbored by what we consider our most brilliant minds.

This weekend Oz the Great and Powerful hits the screens, providing another reimagining of the original Wizard of Oz in the vein of Gregory McGuire’s Wicked. Yet little is remembered of the creator of the saga himself, L. Frank Baum, the son of a devout Methodist family and a fierce advocate for the genocide of Native Americans. Only days after the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890, in fact, Baum penned an article for the newspaper he owned titled, “Why not Annihilation?” Here’s a quote from the article: “Wipe these untamed and untamable creatures off the face of the Earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands.” Apart from his genocidal views towards Native Americans, Baum also ascribed to a belief system known as Theosophy later in life, which was Aryan-centric and voiced a strong aversion to Jewish identity. And yet, from our constant reimaginings and evolutions as a society, Oz has been taken out of the bigot’s hands entirely, becoming a poster child for diversity, acceptance, and even elements of anti-imperialism. The acting roster is populated by Jews and blacks, and preaches, if ineffectively, a message of cross-cultural understanding.

In this day and age, there aren’t as many excuses for being ignorant. There never really were to begin with, but in some ways, even if it’s simple to be racist, sexist, or homophobic in a quiet, wink-wink fashion in the 21st century, it’s only when someone is put on a microphone that he or she is condemned. Whose hateful whispers, then, are we still ignoring? Whose hate is still flying beneath the radar of popular consumption? Maybe we need to stop turning our heads. Maybe we need to listen closer. If Charles Krafft, a veritable chair nominee for KKK Grand Wizard, is capable of fooling thousands into thinking him a forward-thinking genius, who else are we currently paying, or worshiping, to fill us with surreptitious hatred?

Samuel Sattin is the author of “League of Somebodies,” a debut novel about one family’s efforts to create the world’s first superhero. (Spoiler: It doesn’t go so well.) Imagine The Doom Patrol cross-pollinated with Philip Roth and then remixed by Mel Brooks. Audible recently released the audiobook performed by John Keating. Sattin is 31 years-old and lives in Oakland with his wife. His work has appeared in Salon, io9, Kotaku, Publishing Perspectives, The Good Men Project and he’s currently a contributing editor at The Weeklings. Follow @samuelsattin on Twitter!

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>