Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
Tomorrow at The Hole in New York, Johnny Abrahams‘ exhibition “Threnody” opens. The title of the show, meaning a song of lamentation for the dead, references a month that Abrahams spent in Tokyo with a friend who was at a cancer treatment facility. While he sat at his ill friend’s bedside, he made abstract drawings that expressed a void and a simplicity. The works made by black pen and marker, extended to include subtle, arbitrary ridges from a knife—resulting in depth with vertical and horizontal shapes, and positive and negative space. Abrahams’ poetic pieces are accompanied by colorful composite paintings, which feature stacked curved canvases in primary colors created by an oil stick.
To learn more about the recent works, and his beginnings as an artist, we spoke to Abraham.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us a bit about the starting point of “Threnody?”
JOHNNY ABRAHAMS: “Threnody” originated from an intention to progress out of the optic, detailed line work found in my earlier paintings into a more formalist or minimal language. The main intent was to change the visual language from the delicate, line based pattern fills into something that felt more sculptural that could in it’s simplicity highlight form instead of line as the new focus.
In the works presented in “Threnody,” rather than expressing drama through the repetition of pattern, it is instead conveyed in the subtle interactions of the seemingly massive forms and the very delicate points of contact between these brutal objects resting on the canvas. Rather than abandon the line work entirely, I chose to use it as the basis for the forms in the new paintings. The shapes and compositions of the new works are derived by magnifying tiny portions of an earlier line based painting. When the lines are scaled up and augmented into a six foot composition they then read as sculptural forms, thus making the newer work a direct reaction to the previous paintings rather than an arbitrary departure into something new.
WW: What was your very first creation? How did you art practice begin?
JA: I didn’t start painting until I was in my twenties. I remember coming across a book about Cubism and being completely enamored with the work of Georges Braque. I think the mathematical and systematic nature of that particular art movement created an approach to visual art that I could relate to. I was in school for music but I immediately started making crude oil paintings of cubist representations of everything around me. I didn’t realize it at the time but I think figurative abstraction was a very safe entry point into visual art for me. Not only did the act of abstracting the figure compensate for the lack of technical skill since it doesn’t have to be rendered very accurately, but it also tethers the beginner to reality which can be a little less intimidating than jumping right into a less defined practice like abstract expressionism.
My art practice is a very investigative one, and this progression from line into form has been the genesis of many different bodies of work over the years. My initial exhibitions explored what can be done with line to the exclusion of all other elements, but the intention towards form gradually led to irregular shaped canvases, which led to more modular groupings of canvases, which ultimately led to the idea of painting about sculpture and the current “object” paintings. Each iteration of the progression generated it’s own distinct series, but all were an expression of the desire to distill the intricate geometries generated through line into a progressively finer language of formal elements.
“Threnody” is on view at The Hole through December 31.