Abby Abrams isn’t just “talented,” a friend of the artist declares with some heat, “she’s gifted!”
But the friend concedes that the Springs painter/sculptor is not widely known, despite numerous shows on the East End. Regardless, Abrams continues to work in her studio, for love, not money. Her résumé testifies to a flourishing career working in many media—oil, watercolor, acrylic, leather, metal, wood, stone, ceramic, bronze, pen and ink. She’s done illustrations for CBS Records, Doubleday Books, record sleeves, and painted names and signs on boats in the Caribbean and on Long Island. Locally, she’s been included in and has curated juried exhibitions and invitationals and has also taught at The Art Barge in Amagansett. Lately, however, she’s been quietly painting flowers and scenes from diaries she’s been keeping and sketching in for years, using pen and ink and Magic Marker.
She’s also enjoying newfound energy, the result of having the lung cancer that has plagued her for the last several years declared to be in remission (“no chemo,” she beams). If the illness affected her work as an artist by prompting her to give up the strenuous demands of sculpting in clay—“you have to stand up all the time”—she’s “bonkers” over the flowers she’s been doing and about transforming the 4” x 6” diary pages into colorful acrylic canvases. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but success is more often than not the offspring of creativity and experience. Besides, Abrams says with a laugh, painting is “cleaner” than sculpting. She loves the call of blank white paper.
Years at The High School of Music & Art, the School of Visual Arts, Boston University, The Art Students League and Parsons The New School For Design inform her critical judgment. Her compositions are superb—she knows what to leave out as well as what to put in—and her sense of perspective in two dimensions is obviously honed by doing pieces in the round. She says with remarkable candor that she knows she’s not among “the top desirable artists in the area,” adding that her watercolor landscapes and acrylic flowers “are no different from anyone else’s.” But she underrates her appeal. Walk into a show and you can instantly recognize an Abrams.
A resident of Springs for almost 25 years, Abrams bought her house because it had a gas kiln in the back room—“I thought I died and went to heaven!” In time, gas yielded to electric and then sculpture to painting. The delicate semi-abstract wire figures she began exhibiting not too long ago are now in the past as well—their fragility was greater than she had anticipated, and housing them in Plexiglas became a chore. She wonders if there’s a name for what she’s concentrating on now with the diaries. Memoir? Autobiography? “Illustrated Life?” The entries are not just of family and friends. She also has sketches depicting meetings of the Artists Alliance of East Hampton and poetry readings at Ashawagh Hall. She keeps a sketchbook in the back of her car; she opens a volume at random—she started these little books approximately 35 years ago—there’s her son, sprawled on the floor, a view in her dentist’s office, her cat, her mother, minimalist drawings with a bit of color that she’s now “coaxing” into larger life on canvas. If illness has slowed her down a bit, it has not diminished her commitment to community. She recently joined the board of the Artists Alliance because she wants “to help artists survive.” The Alliance studio tour did not happen last year, she notes, and some artists find membership and hanging fees prohibitive.
Evening sets in at Abrams’ home. New work adorns the walls, but suddenly Abrams pauses to retrieve a watercolor. She did it a few years ago when she “freaked out” being continually biopsied, tested and diagnosed before the lumps on her lung were clearly identified. Told she was “terminal,” a “hysteric,” and “too ignorant to understand” medical procedures, she suffered the horror of the endless wait. But she was not alone. “My Monster” was emerging—a 14” x 20” watercolor about that terrifying time. It stopped the dying poet Robert Long in his tracks when he saw it, a month before he died. Ars longa, vita brevis.