“It’s like I’m a conjurer or something,” says Rose Abrahamson, describing how faces and details just seem to emerge from her canvases after she has laid down the first layer of acrylics and added a few found objects.
Starting this Friday, August 10, Ms. Abrahamson will be the featured artist at the Shaw Cramer Gallery on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. She will also give an artist’s talk at the gallery on Tuesday, August 14.
There does seem to be a little magic in the Abrahamson mix. A self-taught artist, the Vineyard Haven resident produces arresting, dreamlike works using scraps of homemade paper, snippets of print, found objects and remnants from earlier works. With the skill of an alchemist, she transforms the ordinary into extraordinary works of art.
Ms. Abrahamson has been showing her work at Shaw Cramer for 20 years. Now 90 years old, she says this will be her last show. But she has been making that claim for about five years now.
Ms. Abrahamson is an intuitive artist. She has no idea where her work will go when she first picks up a paintbrush. She puts down a field of acrylics as a skilled abstract artist with a finely tuned eye for improbable color combinations, which can range from dark to bright to pastel — often within the same piece. She also may produce initial texture by applying splotches of layered paint.
From there, enchantment takes over. Ms. Abrahamson has an impressive collection of bits and pieces to draw from. An avid collector, the nonagerian has the eye of a nest-building bird. She finds treasures that most of us would overlook, like two crushed cans that will eventually become a stooped old man, a piece of rusty metal resembling a can opener that will have a second life as a human figure in a dreamscape.
The artist weaves a lot of interesting scraps of rice paper into her paintings, utilizing the beauty of the hairlike fibers to produce delicate, yet vibrant effects. She is also drawn to the printed page. One recent piece features a young girl with a dress made from a scrap of sheet music. Close inspection of another reveals a faded bit of an old letter with the ornate script writing of a bygone era.
“I see possibilities,” Ms. Abrahamson says. “There’s always a place I can put something. No scrap goes unused around here.” However, the finished project is never just a jumble of unrelated bits. With each piece she creates a visual melody of sorts, where, somehow, each item seems destined to inhabit its place.
Her recent work has become less complex, according to Ms. Abrahamson. On one canvas, she has sculpted a black bird from stiffened paper and fabric on a blue field. “I wanted to make a bird that would almost be ready to fly,” she says. A sketched ghost image of the bird’s head gives balance to the scene.
For many years, Ms. Abrahamson, who is originally from New York City, had a studio in the Pilot Hill home she shared with her husband. It turned into a communal space of sorts, where other artists joined her at times. After her husband died, Ms. Abrahamson moved to a smaller home off the Vineyard Haven–Edgartown Road and built a studio in the backyard. She abandoned the studio a few years ago, perhaps with the thought that she would retire from painting, but her imagination is as lively as ever.
“I didn’t think I had another show in me,” says Ms. Abrahamson. However, her recent work, produced in a makeshift studio set up in her dining room, tells a different story.
Ms. Abrahamson has been painting for 70 years, although she only started working at her art seriously after she moved to the Vineyard 40 years ago. “I learned how to paint on the Island,” she says. “On my own.”
Through the years, Ms. Abrahamson has shown her work in a number of local galleries and she has enjoyed success as an artist. “My work is all around the Island,” she says. “I’d love to have a show with all the people who have bought my work over the years.”
“I don’t rehearse these things. I can’t imagine that,” she says of her upcoming talk at Shaw Cramer. “I’ll go wherever the fancy takes me.”
Rose Abrahamson, Mixed Media Paintings, Friday, Aug. 10 to Friday, Aug. 17; Artist talk, Tuesday, Aug.14, 6 pm, Shaw Cramer Gallery, Vineyard Haven. Call 508-696-7323 or go to shawcramergallery.com.