Galleries : Rose Abrahamson: Poet of the paintbrush
Rose Abrahamson, one of the Island's most accomplished painters, says, "I was a poet before I was a painter, and poetry will always be in my heart."
The 86-year-old Vineyard Haven artist, whose work often evokes lyric poetry, is showing 10 acrylic/mixed media pieces in "Conjurings" at the Shaw Cramer Gallery in Vineyard Haven through August 7. The exhibit's title is particularly apt, considering the artist's remarkable capacity to unite the figurative and abstract.
In her artist's statement, Ms. Abrahamson explains, "To paraphrase Shakespeare: I conjure up spirits from the vasty deep. This inner universe, created by chance and dream, reflects the wanderings and whimsies of my life."
She spoke recently about the evolution of "Awakening," one of her largest paintings at Shaw Cramer. Called "Luminary" at a different point in its development, it is a dark, nearly black abstract, flecked with gold leaf and dabs of orange. Out of the painting's darkness emerges the spectral suggestion of an oval head at its center.
"Sometimes I think a thing is finished, but there is something about it that maybe I should change," she says. "'Awakening' had a secret in it without explaining it."
Ms. Abrahamson continues, "I started by putting a couple of paper collages on the canvas, but it wasn't right. I took one off and painted over it. Then I saw something was protruding, a beautiful oval. I realized it was the egg that the bird hatched from. It still looked awkward, so I pulled off the other piece of collage. It's not as mysterious now. It was like it was asleep before, and I woke it up."
Several pieces of twisted wire Ms. Abrahamson had tacked on the wall initiated the twin paintings, "Striving I" and "Striving II" that hang on either side of "Awakening." These smaller paintings have muted, clay-colored backgrounds with orange, and are divided by meandering heavy black lines.
In "Striving I," the artist patterned the central lines after the wire as a way to conceptualize her composition. Looking at the first painting inspired her to create the second one.
"I don't think of myself as an abstract painter," Ms. Abrahamson says. There are almost always figurative elements in her work, and she has done many representational paintings, including one of her mother sitting on a brown sofa.
"Visitor" demonstrates the artist's talent at wielding paint in three dimensions. The textures, colors, and lines speak as evocatively as the creature, possibly an amber-eyed cat, in the lower portion of the painting.
In "Family Tree," Ms. Abrahamson has collaged pieces of Japanese paper, filled with thread hairs, to make the tree's leaves. Most of the figures are heads, some in profile, others facing the viewer, executed in the artist's deft hand. One is a full-length figure of a woman standing on a limb and wearing a shocking pink cape and black pants as if to suggest the artist herself, turning this family tree into a dream vision.
Similar in composition is "Raphael," a painting primarily in midnight blue, with a series of identifiable objects or symbols suspended in the background. Rectangular buildings appear in the lower portion of the composition. Two bird shapes are outlined in black, and a circle of pale blue could be a moon.
Photo courtesy of Shaw Cramer Gallery
Shapes and colors work together to move the painting beyond simple explanation. Like many of Ms. Abrahamson's compositions, "Raphael" operates like a Rorschach test on the viewer's imagination.
"A Piece of Time" epitomizes the painter's distinctive blending of abstraction and the figural. Collaged scraps, lines, a spiral, a donut shape, and semi-circles come together with the profile of a figure created from handmade paper, in ways that keep the eyes satisfyingly busy. In "Pilgrimage" and "Bystanders," Ms. Abrahamson uses the human figure to explore qualities of paint, color, and shape in other interesting ways.
As a painter, she says, "I can do what I want. I don't have to follow anybody's rules. It's too tedious. For me, it's like a little kid playing."
A painting like "Gadzooks!" which incorporates pages from "Alice in Wonderland" and a scrap of a woman's face, demonstrates Ms. Abrahamson's sentiments. An antic stick figure in black seems to jump off a square painted in the center-right of the painting, as if this talented artist's visions are ready to leap off the edge of the canvas.
Brooks Robards regularly reviews art, books, films and entertainment for The Times.