Work of the Week – Sigmund Abeles Collection
by Jason T. Perry
This week’s Work of the Week contains pieces from artist Sigmund Abeles, which include: Crouched, Space Issue #2: Northwood, New Hampshire, and Fisherman’s Shack, Myrtle Beach.
Abeles wanted to be an artist ever since he was 14. He used to try to draw the people who rented rooms from his house. Now, his work is in the permanent collections of over 100 museums, galleries, universities and corporations. Abeles, now age 82, has had a successful career.
The Asheville Art Museum is thrilled to hold six of his works in its Collection. Abeles recently spoke to us about three of them.
“The thing about Crouched is the quick look she gives,” explains Abeles, pausing to fully recall the piece. “I remember it was a former wife. That image is a study for a lithograph that is called Choices.”
The drama starts at the woman’s quick glance and flows from her dark black hair all the way down her curvy yet rigid spine. The skin of the woman is dark and pale, and it’s almost a sad piece but at a second look at her face putts the mood in question.
“Crouched is not an image that is easy to hold,” says Abeles.
He recalls the different tools used to create the piece.
“I was messing around with a tool that most quote-on-quote ‘fine’ artists don’t use,” says Abeles. “That was the airbrush. Part of it is in pastel and part of it is airbrushed, which is a soft way working.”
Abeles free-handed the whole piece and would use tape if he needed to create edges with the airbrush.
“I like to make what I would call earlier looking art with modern tools,” Abeles says.
Abeles grew up in a time where abstract art was popular, yet his art has always contained a style of realism.
“I kind of have a feeling that if you are trying to work on what the ‘in’ thing is you will never catch up,” says Abeles. “What’s in today might not be in tomorrow.”
While attending USC, the professors would often tell the students what was trendy in the art world and what was not.
“You might as well have been picking clothes out of a Sears catalog,” says Abeles. “For me, it goes beyond the surface because it’s showing one person’s point of view about life.”
Abeles was pressured as an art student to work more abstractly, but that never seemed to flow with his art.
“I realized that part of modern figuration as well as modern abstraction is something about working all over,” says Abeles. “Every inch of the surface should be as equally as interesting. There is something about my work that does not have that. I have hot spots and cold spots, and spots that were ignored.”
Space Issue #2: Northwood, New Hampshire
Space Issue #2: Northwood, New Hampshire was created in 1977 using a Drypoint technique.
Abeles recalls making the image during or after a trip to Italy and explains that a lot of the moods in his pieces come from dealings with spite in a marriage or in a relationship when one wants to feel equal.
“There is the (woman) in the foreground dominating the majority of space to be in the foreground,” says Abeles. “It’s pushing and pulling you in terms of dominance.”
Abeles is interested in real people, and he draws them realistically nude because he finds them beautiful. Abeles draws people as they are and does not try to create the “perfect” body image. The Woman in Space Issue #2 reflects that realism. Her breasts are a bit uneven, her arms are muscular, and her collar bones bulge out. Yet the Woman is truly beautiful because what the viewer is seeing is real. A real woman with a gaze to fall in love with.
“I really think that the advent of the girly magazines really harmed the nude which was a classical form and didn’t spell necessarily the fashion of the day,” states Abeles.
People ask Abeles if that means he will add warts or other unappealing body images while drawing them in which he replies “no,” but he wouldn’t take them off if they had them.
Fisherman’s Shack, Myrtle Beach
Fisherman’s Shack, Myrtle Beach was ink drawn in 1958, and Abeles is surprised the piece is still around.
“Fisherman’s Shack was one of those very, very early things that ended up in the hands of someone I went to high school with,” says Abeles. “I don’t even know how she got it.”
Abeles grew up in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and he often found inspiration in the life that surrounded him. Fisherman’s Shack seems fit to be in the Collection because it can remind someone of where he or she came from. It seems to be a healthy fit for Abeles to remember where it all started and where he came from. Sometimes he fights with the struggle to keep himself influenced to create art after all of these years as an artist.
“Sometimes I think, ‘Have I said all I need to say?’ but I realize I haven’t and I realize what I have to say is mine,” says Abeles. “There is not that many things you can do in life where you can do something fully from beginning to end. You think it out, you fight the battles by figuring out the visual problems, psychological problems, and all the other problems.”
Abeles has not only been an artist but a teacher and professor to many students over the years. He loves talking to a younger generation about his true passion and wants students to remember a few things after they leave him.
“If you can possibly do it, art is what lasts,” says Abeles. “You can spend your life trying to make something of value that is truth to you. A dictum which I adopted ‘Be honest, no decoration, remember death’, and if I could add anything I would add ‘trust your intuition and take chances.'”
Art Work Above
Top: Crouched, 1982, pastel, 30.00 x 22 inches. Gift of Angela Noel. Permanent Collection. 1991.02.3.44.
Middle: Space Issue #2: Northwood, New Hampshire, 1977, drypoint, 7.00 x 5.63 inches. Gift of Mr. Joseph V. Comin. Permanent Collection. 2003.05.01.69.
Bottom: Fisherman’s Shack: Myrtle Beach, c. 1958, ink, 11.13 x 14.88 inches. Gift of Jacqueline Stackhouse. Permanent Collection. 1999.11.41.