A Painter's Vision, Alive and Kicking

JANE ABRAMS deals in large concepts. There is nothing petty about the emotions she evokes or the subjects she takes on. Much of the work achieves a transcendent quality difficult to describe but palpable nevertheless.

Standing in front of her large painting, "Rio Grande Valley" (80 by 144 in.), the viewer is caught up in the surge of motion and emotion. This is a universe alive and kicking. The eye follows the long sweep of grasses left behind after the hay harvest, running like a river, back through the canvas to the distant horizon line and the green, tufted sky. Eternity and the present coexist in this painting. It is clear that Abrams owes much to Van Gogh and, in other paintings, perhaps to Rousseau. But her term s are American and contemporary.

Light streams out of the strands of hay. Abrams's method - a modification of the ancient encaustic painting technique - incorporates wax into the oil paint. The resulting luminosity and density of impasto lends an almost sculptural presence to the painting.

In a series of paintings done after a visit to Guatemala, Abrams began to incorporate the human figure into her work. Many of these paintings decry human rights violations. Yet this is not political art. The strong statements she makes are first of all humane. The viewer gazes at the heavily patterned surface of the painting, only to discover a fallen figure, sometimes barely visible, surrounded by exquisite vegetation, beautifully rendered in strong, rich colors. These works are so beautiful and so disq uieting. It's hard to know what to do with your emotions. This, Abrams said recently, is exactly what she felt about her experience in Guatemala. Her work is always about dichotomies.

Abrams started out as a printmaker. The process of etching - cutting deep into the steel plate and creating depressions that fill with ink - allowed her to lay line over line, tone over tone. "I've taken what I love about etching and gone nuts with it. I can pile up things and put this network of information, one line over another, one tone over the other and make it as thick as the materials will allow. As the paint is built up it becomes responsive to light and shadow."

Abrams is a keen observer. She is interested in all the great questions - watching human interaction, politics, beauty, and the strife and chaos that also mark human experience. The universals she finds in Guatemala or the Rio Grande Valley, she acknowledges, are also to be found everywhere. If she were to be confined to her backyard, she says, "I think I could see those things happening in that small arena." The world in a grain of sand, as William Blake put it.

Her favorite way to work is to begin by closing all her books (which include the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and various Latin American poets) and cleaning up her studio.

"It's a little ceremony - to close all the books and stack them up neatly and coil up the hose on the vacuum cleaner, sharpen all the pencils, and get everything neat. And then I may have three large blank canvases out. I love to sit in my grandmother's rocking chair and look at the canvas.... I've been reading and thinking and responding and feel-ing.... That colors my reaction to the surface of the canvas. There might be a shadow or a mark on the canvas that will set me off. And something will occur... ." Abrams works by intuition.

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