Work of the Week – December 23, 2013
by Adrian Etheridge
Sigmund Abeles (1934-Present) is one of America’s most distinguished figural artists, as well as a lifelong academic. Though born in Brooklyn, New York, Abeles grew up in South Carolina, where he spent much of his youth sketching the sculptures in the neighboring Brookgreen Gardens, no doubt where his aptitude for drawing the figure arose. In addition to producing his own work, Abeles has spent much of his life in academia. After graduating from the University of South Carolina with a B.A. in Fine Arts, he continued his arts education first with the Art Students League of New York in New York City, then at the Skowhegan School in Maine, and finally at Columbia University where he received an M.F.A. He continued his career teaching at schools such as Wellesley College, Swain School of Design in Massachusetts, Boston University, the University of New Hampshire and the Art Students League of New York.
This artist’s philosophy both in teaching and drawing is to investigate the human figure with an empathetic eye, seeing how it relates to current times. In addition, he believes an artist “needs to be able to draw well, from life as well as memory and imagination, in order to communicate what he sees, senses, and dreams about, and to create convincing visual expression.” Although he entered the art world in the 1950’s when the Abstract Expressionism movement was predominant, he held true to his humanist principles (influenced by artists such as Rembrandt and Goya), instilling emotional expressiveness as well as a narrative into each of his pieces. Rather than detach emotionally from his subjects, he delved into the story behind the human condition. Perhaps one of his greatest achievements is his ability to portray real emotions of real people, those daily moments that initially do not seem important but actually portray personality better than significant occasions.
Yawning, Stretching is one of Abeles’ pieces that exemplifies his ability to turn a mundane event into a beautifully expressive work of art. The artist has produced this piece both in color pastel and black and white drypoint (a printmaking technique of carving into a plate with a hard point), but I find the latter more appealing because of the simplicity of the black lines. Without drawing in every detail of the person, Abeles adeptly uses shadows and highlights to outline the muscular figure of the woman. Without knowing the back story of the piece, the viewer can infer her own story for this captured moment. The pose of the woman yawning and stretching implies that she just got up, possibly out of bed. Her nudity also fits with this assumption. Because of her fit and muscular figure, my read of the piece is that she is waking up to take on another hard day. It is this ability to simply create real life through the use of line, drawing moments that people can relate to, that make Abeles such an appealing artist.
Artwork above: Sigmund Abeles, Yawning, Stretching, 1982, General, Drypoint. Gift of Mr. Joseph V. Comin. Asheville Art Museum Permanent Collection. 2003.05.02.69.