Formerly a classical musician, Johnny Abrahams' bold compositions are imbued with breath and rhythm, resulting in vivid patterns and contained forms painted in clean lines and bold shades.Read More
Born in Tacoma, Washington, Abrahams began his artistic trajectory studying music at Evergreen State College in Washington, and did not begin to paint until his late 20s. He was initially influenced by Georges Braque and Cubism, which offered the mathematical precision and systematic approaches Abrahams favoured.
While in music school, Abrahams started making crude oil paintings, replicating his surroundings as cubist representations. Through figurative abstraction, Abrahams found an entry point into painting.
Johnny Abrahams' paintings pulsate with rhythm and light, with slight spatial, textural, or colour additions creating depth and movement and unsettling otherwise clean geometrical compositions.
Abrahams' early paintings see large geometric forms in bold tones framed by the rationale of instrumental composition. Vibrating and pulsing as viewers move across space, the optical illusions produced by the paintings' overlapping high-contrast stripes and replicating patterns unsettle the gaze.
The dancing illusions are conceived from a meticulous grid system guided by rules and restrictions that divide and repeat structures and shapes through an additive process. Pattern on pattern, resulting paintings like Line Study In Falling Rectangles (2014) show tight graphic compositions.
Abrahams' subsequent paintings continue their inquiry into the relationship between pattern, composition, and shape through simple but significant additions, like a single black band or a line of white acrylic paint.
Paintings like Untitled 5 (2019), depicting a pine-green square partially distorted by overlapping monochrome lines, show a slowing in pace. Forms toned in calming shades of purple and blues sit inside the confines of the canvas, punctuated by partial patterns, no longer looking to unsettle.
In Untitled 1 (2018) an equally precise rendition lathered with a palette knife, bold black lines lean against one another, painted with clean edges and dense pigmentation. Touching slightly before curving away, their allure lies not only in the hint of motion within a contained frame, but the unexpected appearance of negative space.
Layering on existing concerns with materiality, multi-panel paintings as shown in the 2021 exhibition LITHS at Choi&Lager in Cologne, veer towards the sculptural. Painted on hand-sawn plywood boards with uneven edges, these paintings are punctuated with a gritty texture as the plywood pierces through the hand-stretched burlap.
The 3-metre-tall paintings start from a sketch before being scaled up using the traditional method of pencil and string. Colour is applied with a palette knife to introduce an element of improvisation. Often, they will draw inspiration from objects in the artist's surroundings, like Kikkoman soy sauce bottles or red solo cups.
Lathered in thick layers of oil and wax, paintings like Dark Blue #6 (2019) depart from early pattern painting with blocks of primary colour placed beside darker forms of similar shape. The remaining white edges unoccupied by sweeping rectangles punctuate the composition.
In Red #3 (2019), the left rectangle overlaps with the form on the right, seemingly misaligned towards the bottom, leaving a thin white margin painted to replicate the bare canvas. Light enters the composition from the right, leaving the upper rectangle in a darker shade.
Red/Orange #1 (2019) is embellished with the same sculptural quality, with thick layers of acrylic paint casting dark oranges and reds into solid shapes. Sparse bits of canvas appear between the shapes, hinting at a pause or a breath within the shifting composition.
Johnny Abrahams' works have been shown in the United States, Europe, and Asia.
Select solo exhibitions include red weakens an hour, Jack Hanley Gallery, East Hampton (2021); A sprint for the idler, Romer Young, San Francisco (2021); Bosco Sodi and Johnny Abrahams, Sundays, Copenhagen (2021); Making Flowers Alive, Choi&Lager, Cologne (2020); I am the tortoise but also the cat and the dog, Vigo Gallery, London (2018); 10 Paintings, Choi&Lager (2018); Das Angeles, The Hole, New York (2016); Haptic Trajectories, The Mine Gallery, Dubai (2016); and x, y, zero, Jack Hanley, New York (2015).
Selected group exhibitions include The Dark Side/The Bright Side, Bjorn and Gundorph Gallery, Aarhus (2020); Superposition, Joshua Liner Gallery, New York (2018); UNTITLED Miami (2015); Frieze New York (2014, 2013); Subject to the Abstract, Galerie van der Mieden, Brussels (2014); Fertile Ground, Oakland Museum of California (2013); and Frieze London (2013, 2012).
Elaine YJ Zheng | Ocula | 2021