Cathy Abramson’s oil paintings capture fleeting moments in time, and highlight everyday snapshots of life. To see more of her wonderful glimpses of life, please visit her website.
For the past several years I’ve been exploring the urban landscape of Washington, DC, and Bethesda, Maryland, as well as other places I’ve visited. I attempt to capture an ordinary moment, a chance encounter, or a fragment of urban life that repeats hundreds of times a day.
We all order lunch or a cup of coffee, pass an art gallery, get a clock fixed, or glance in a window without a second thought. Even though these moments seem unimportant, together they underscore the transient nature of our experience in an urban environment—an environment of constant change. Capturing those moments and representing them through oil painting raises the consciousness of the joys and frustrations of the urban rhythm.
Even though I attempt to paint a fleeting moment, I use highly structured procedures to make an image. First, I take many photographs of a scene and combine images in Photoshop to arrive at a composition. Often, these images bear little resemblance to the original scene.
After working out the composition, I start to draw directly on the canvas in paint, wiping out and redrawing as I go along. This part of the painting is the most fun and creative. I’m always surprised by how minor variations in photographic images lead to entirely different compositions.
When painting “Second Line” in New Orleans I took multiple photographs of a wedding party. I focused on a random guest, lost in her own thoughts. The scene takes place in the late afternoon on Bourbon Street and is perhaps a little sad because of the disconnect between the forced gaiety of the street and the reaction of the woman.
After laying the foundation, I begin the complex stage of working out the values, hues, and saturations and making a cohesive painting. Because my compositions are often detailed and I find the range of color can be somewhat overwhelming, I often look for a single predominant color and go from there. In the Bourbon Street painting, I chose a palette of neutral colors. A few splashes of red were added for interest while the background and buildings are muted.
It will be interesting to see how my paintings change and develop. I’m currently enrolled in a three year atelier program that is making me even more aware of the subtleties of value, color, and edge. This academic approach is bound to have a profound effect on my painting. The brushiness of my paintings will have to contrast with smooth passages and my drawing will need a far greater level of accuracy.
I find that I like ‘rules’ in representational painting and in a strange way they actually allow for greater artistic freedom. I’m now starting a series of paintings of a neighborhood in transition in Washington, DC. I’d like to record the neighborhood and its residents as they are now and then perhaps again in a year.
This exploration into the transient nature of the urban environment—though at a macro level—feels like a natural evolution of my investigations.
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