Sarah DiVito - John Abrams' painting ‘Between Takes’ Lifestyle Sept 2010
The 1967 classic film Far from the Madding Crowd was the first drive-in movie Canadian artist John Abrams saw. He was just 10 years old when he became captivated not only by the romance and heroics in the grand-scale film, but also by the lead actress Julie Christie.
“She was hypnotic,” Abrams says. “She had a real presence and vulnerability about her.”
Abrams is a renowned Canadian painter who has been exhibiting for 27 years in galleries all around North America. His specialty is new progressive contemporary art, but he also likes to reference art history and apply abstract techniques. “I’m always investigating new ideas and combining them into my larger practice as a painter,” he says.
Christie, who was a burgeoning movie star when the film was released, captivated Abrams then and now. His 2008 painting “Between Takes” is an image of the movie icon sprawled on a navy blue couch — which is a reference to art history, where representations of reclining figures were included in artwork during the time of the ancient Greeks.
She’s wearing a simple dress, which illustrates a balance between glamour and the everyday. In the painting, Christie is holding a cigarette and is in a relaxed, yet seductive pose.
“She is hypnotic, almost spaced out,” he says. “But her relaxation and reflection on the floor gives the painting a liquid feel, which helps remind the viewer that this is a painting they’re looking at, not a photo.”
For the last few years, Abrams has been blending two visual art mediums — film and paint — to bridge the gap between a wider audience and contemporary art. Film, he says, acts as a shortcut to shared experiences and has an ability to create connections between the viewer’s experience and the painting’s modernist concepts.
Abrams has been translating scenes from cinema into what he describes as “the language of painting” since 2003. He uses images from movies to open his work to fans of cinema as well as those well-versed in more traditional art.
The artist incorporates different painting techniques throughout the larger work of “Between Takes.” Certain parts of this painting have an unfinished or slightly raw feel, while other areas possess a finely wrought quality. The combination of rough and loose against fine and finished allows the viewer to imagine the painting as an act as much as an art object.
Abrams’ techniques include paint splatters around the iconic actress and long brush strokes to create smoke curls that drift from her loosely-held cigarette. Her pose is casual, her body cradled by turquoise blue pillows that appear to be melting beneath her heavenly form. “Each painting trope performs to enhance and complement the qualities of the other,” explains Abrams.
The painting tries to evoke an emotional response because of its use of colour. In “Between Takes” the artist illustrates the emptiness of Christie’s surroundings through the dark, cold deep blue and black hues, which is set in contrast to the warm tones in Christie’s dress, hair and skin tone.
“I try to work with colour in such a way as to charge the painting with a kind of visual sensuality,” Abrams explains. “Between Takes” is 24 x 36 inches, oil on wood panel. Abrams layers colour and painting on this wood surface to create a shimmering field from contrasting palette and paint applications.
The ultimate goal of “Between Takes” is to stop viewers in their tracks. The artist goes on to say, “I wanted this work to capture its audience the way Julie Christie captures hers in Far from the Madding Crowd.”
Abrams is represented by Paul Petro Contemporary Art in Toronto, as well as the Boltax Gallery located on Shelter Island in New York — and he shows regularly at both locations. He is also a member of the LOOP collective and often participates in the Casey House Art with Heart Auction and other fundraisers.
Most recently, Abrams has been awarded a Canada Council research grant to expand his exploration into the relationships between film, its video derivative and painting. The artist’s endeavours into the realm of cinema as a subject matter for his paintings has put Abrams on a whole new landscape of contemporary art — which certainly has not gone unnoticed. •
John Abrams Between Takes 2009 30 x 40 inches oil on panel