In her studio, Ms. Abrahamson adds final touches to her painted homage to Gorky. Photo by Ben Scott
In her studio, Ms. Abrahamson adds final touches to her painted homage to Gorky. Photos by Ben Scott

Rose Abrahamson: The art of the occasion

By CK Wolfson - August 24, 2006

It is as if she can find motivation in shifts of the wind. Just the sheen of a particular fabric, a line of prose, collected bits and pieces of found objects, and painter Rose Abrahamson is inspired.

Drawing from imagination, her expressionist acrylic paintings are often embellished with outlines and details in graphite or oil pastels, washes in colored inks, texture with scraps of Japanese paper, and whatever materials might capture her fancy. "Anything can be collated to become part of a work of art," she declares.

The process is hers, and in a bell jar of creativity she becomes spontaneous, immediate, and unselfconscious. The image that results, she insists, is one that has been informed by the painting itself. "It's like a collaboration between the painting and me, and then the viewers," she says.

"Bus to Venus" (a title she thought of long before she began the painting), contains pieces cut from her discarded paintings, a cardboard circle from the end of a roll of tape, dried paint and bits of craypas scrapped from her palette.

"To the Light," one of Ms. Abrahamson's paintings found at the Shaw Cramer Gallery.

Another yet unnamed canvas featuring a totem-like figure in layers of dark blues and burgundies, includes a surprising cobalt blue freeform shape draped over the left-hand corner. She looks at it, and in a voice that identifies her as a native New Yorker, says, "I don't know why, it just comes from my soul."

A Vineyard resident for more than 30 years, Ms. Abrahamson began painting in earnest in her 40s. "If I had another 20 or 30 years I would explore other things, things that are beyond my imagination now," she says, noting her 85th birthday in October.

Her upcoming show with Island artist Peggy Zablotny at The Field Gallery holds particular significance for Ms. Abrahamson. She insists she won't do any more large shows in the future. "This is my last hurrah, my last big show," she declares, explaining that she showed at The Field eight years ago, just weeks before the death of Lester, her husband of 55 years. "He died October 8th, but he came to the opening. He was always supportive of my work. He was not feeling well enough to stand, so he sat on the bench outside with some of his friends. They told me afterward how proud he was of me."

Among the work in this show is a collage made of the letters her husband wrote to her in the 1940s, neat lines of cursive over which she has added clipped images and washes of color.

A slight and handsome woman whose fluttering fingers conduct a melody of words, she quips, "If I didn't paint, I'd probably be in a looney bin," adding, "I certainly don't think about whether people will like it or not like it. The painting doesn't pay any attention to what I think. There's sort of a gremlin in that canvas and it's just taking over. I don't have anything to do with it - except at the end when I have to decide if it's finished. At first I say, where the hell did this come from? And then I'll go back a number of times and go over it."

No two of her paintings are alike, although all share qualities that identify them as hers. Sometimes it's the vaguely mystical impression, or the way soft washes of monochromatic colors are applied; the frequently depicted bird, or figure with outstretched arms. She offers, "There must be some Japanese in my soul because it continues to come out in my work."

In her new work, "Vernal Equinox," a figure facing the edge of the soft green-toned canvas is covered in a garment of Japanese paper, and a garland-like head dress. "I don't know, someone said I should call it, 'Green Man,'" Ms. Abrahamson says. "Maybe it's something Celtic, something to do with nature."

Her paintings routinely go through several incarnations. She will go back to a canvas she considered to be complete and begin changing it. "Very often what I learn from my paintings comes from an objective observer. It keeps me humble."

Clearly it also keeps her happy.

"I don't have to win any prizes, I don't have to be told I'm good," she says. "I've always liked painting because I could make my own rules. I can be as playful as I want to be, and outrageous as I want to be. I feel very liberated as far as my work, and it's taken me all this time to get to this place."

The Field Gallery show of the art of Rose Abrahamson and Peggy Zablotny will open Sunday, Aug. 27 with a reception from 5 to 7 pm. The show will run through Sept. 15. For information, call 508-693-5595.