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John Abrams: Canadian Artist Sees Red

By ArtistsInCanada Interview December 9, 2002

} John Abrams:Canadian Artist Sees Red By Paul Constable Like most Canadian Artists, John Abrams subsidizes his painting practice with a day job. In his case he works at a commercial lithography shop, but that aside, Abrams seems to have a single minded conscience that keeps him focused on making art, since his student years (1979-82) at the Ontario College of Art. We are talking about an artist who loves living the artist's life and passionately maintains a prolific painting practice with a very active exhibition history. Currently, John Abrams is a member of the Board of Directors at 'A Space', one of Canada's oldest artist run centers. He is a founding member of Loop Gallery, a collectively owned gallery on Queen West and a core member of Torontoniensis, an exhibiting artist collective. Abrams paints very large images to very small. He paints using references from mass media, the local papers or Canada History books. He is known to paint on exterior walls, canvas and wood panel boxes. John Abrams' work is 'Epop', yet it depicts social issues or events that happen locally around his street or global topics -- that we are all witness to on the tube. Abrams is an observer and with a critical eye. He is interested in analyzing the impact that the visual media has on the present paradigm. His paintings contain that beautiful edge of engagement - sensuous, but tenacious, Abrams' thought provoking imagery lingers long after the viewer has moved on. At times his subject matter is delicate and finely rendered for a realistic metaphor then he quickens his pace to loosen and abstract his brush stroke - always painting something that is recognizable. One of Abrams' large outdoor murals animates a blue angel/goddess, on the exterior front face, of the Cameron Public House/Queen West, (Toronto). It captures the street on a downtown night, with simpler use of line and bright colour. Abrams delivers what he believes: 'Art should bring beauty to the world --because beauty affirms positive emotions'. Making art for more than two decades, John Abrams continues to formally explore the tropes of still life, landscape, full figure and group portraits in oil and acrylic. In Wildlife & Super Models (begun in the early 90's) Abrams compares advertising's corporate use of glamorous images of (endangered) predatory animals with fashion models to package and market product. His continuing series, Criminals and Deities, includes portraits of criminals from his neighborhood, culled from mug shots printed in the Toronto Sun, combined with paintings of serene East Indian Goddesses seen flashing out store windows, on urban streets while crossing town. Abrams is a bit of a Canadian Art History buff, much of his work is in response to art movements like the Group of Seven's romancing of the Canadian North. His paintings are in part about Canadian Art. Abrams' childhood admiration of the painters painting in Stanley Park, Vancouver and grew to include Paul Cane, Robert Harris, The Group of Seven, Michael Snow and Joyce Weiland. Recent Canadian artists like Robert Houle and Tom Dean and International painters like Ed Rusha, Ross Bleckner and Gerhard Ritcher continue to inspire him. Abrams suggests that 'all art talks to the art that came before'. He sees himself contributing to the ongoing stream of paintings launched along the Trans/Canada highway cultural consciousness. This idea of traveling across the country is most evident in recent work, such as 'Canadian Landmark Combine' (2000) collection of the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa. The combine is comprised of three 5 1/5 X 8 foot rectangles, the two flanking horizontals are composed of 20, 11 X 14 X 2 inch oil boxes, each depicting its own Canadian Landmark. These small oil on wood paintings resemble snap shots you may have taken on your holidays while traveling across the country or looking at a travelogue through a hand held View Master. Abrams' hanging configuration compels the eye to travel from one small oil landscape to the next -- making a connection to the way most Canadians see their landscape imagery. The central canvas pictures Niagara Falls (as seen from the Canadian side) as an iconic landmark, as well as an eloquent representation of water and power. In another combine entitled 'Ice Wheel'; Abrams installs twenty paintings in a large circle on the wall - suggesting a wheel with tracings of red under paint showing through the frozen scapes, as a little reference to global warming. Abrams starts all his work by under painting red -- a practice common for many of the Impressionists. Not with standing, Abrams doesn't see red as most of us do, because he is colour blind. But, I believe this gives him an uncanny ability to concentrate on what is important. His minimalist use of colour doesn't get muddled up in a palette squeezed from every tube of paint in the box -- yet the artist is very aware of the visual effects his selection of colours will have. Seeing John Abrams work has made me realize how effective this mid career Canadian artist is as a communicator of our times. For further work by John Abrams please see his web site at www.johnabramsartist.com/. _________________________________________________ Paul Constable is the Director of Artists In Canada. He is a Painter / Printmaker and Senior Graphic Designer for an Advertising and Communications company in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Paul Constable can be reached by email HERE. His paintings may be viewed at: www.ArtistsInCanada.com/pconstable. Your suggestions for future articles are welcome. _________________________________________________ © 2002 ArtistsInCanada.com