Hungry for beauty?

Psychedelic art exhibition investigates ‘the shape of the mind’

Paula Grogan
May 18, 2006

Once the cradle of the rebirth of art, Florence is again host to an exciting new way forward for art. ‘The Shape of the Mind’, an exhibition of psychedelic art by American artist Isaac Abrams, consists of all new works by the artist, both large-scale oil paintings and graphite drawings. Psychedelic art takes its inspiration from heightened states of consciousness usually induced through the use of hallucinogenic substances. It aims to convey the sense of harmony and unity of all things that lies at the heart of these experiences. Abrams was one of the founding fathers of psychedelic art in the 1960s and opened the Coda Gallery, the world’s first psychedelic art gallery, in New York in 1965. Since then, Abrams had moved away from painting but has continued creating through a range of different media, including sculpture, video, film, animation and light shows. This latest show is a return to the kind of psychedelic painting with which he began his career.

 

So why Florence and why this return to psychedelic painting now, after almost 30 years? When I asked Abrams why he chose Florence, he answered ‘Florence chose me.’ While living here last summer, he came in contact with a long-time fan of his work, Rosanna Ossola, owner of the FYR gallery. She asked him if he would consider doing an exhibition in the city. For Abrams, Florence felt right; he was attracted to its dynamic mix of old Gothic streets and its youthful, vibrant population, not to mention its obvious heritage in art.

 

It also seems the world was somehow ready for Abrams’s paintings. Not long before, the Tate Gallery, Liverpool, had requested to use one of Abrams’s early paintings, All Things Are One Thing, as the promotional image for its ‘Summer of Love’ exhibition, a series of art from the psychedelic era. All this inspired Abrams to take up his brushes once more and ‘The Shape of the Mind’ series is the result.

 

Abrams combines intensity of colour with clarity of form, a feat all the more remarkable considering that these works depict an entirely inner world. The paintings do, however, draw from the physical world for inspiration, particularly nature. Disembodied eyes stare out at us from undulating underwater leaves while distant nebulae are formed and destroyed in the constant ebb and flow of the universe. These paintings have a cosmic feel; they depict the inner space of the mind, which seems as endless as outer space.

 

When speaking about his artistic process, Abrams mentions ‘intensity of focus’ as a core element. Creation for him is meditation, a complete focusing of the mind: the more intense the focus the more beauty shines through. The longer you stand and look at these works, the more intense the colour and the experience become, the more you catch a glimpse of an altered state of consciousness. At first glance these paintings appear to be merely pretty patterns, but there is a message behind the beauty. Psychedelic art was born from the political and cultural revolution of the 1960s, and for Abrams it is still as much a political statement as ever. Abrams, however, says that he chooses not to fight negativity with more negativity. His goal is to envisage a better path to instigate change. ‘I could focus on US involvement in Iraq,’ he says, ‘but then, what good that would that actually achieve. There is enough negativity in the world,’ he reasons.

 

‘It takes courage to be happy’, Abrams says. He sees his paintings as an antidote to the materialistic and consumerist aspect of our culture. When I asked Abrams why he thought this revival of interest in psychedelic art was occurring now, he asked me ‘Are you hungry for beauty?’ According to his reasoning, the art world has struggled to free itself from fixed ideas of art for the past century, but in doing so, it seems to have starved itself of beauty. Perhaps after such a long fast, the world is simply hungry again.

 

Abrams’s works are currently on display in the FYR Arte Contemporanea Gallery, Borgo Albizi 23, Florence. Jason Waite is curator. The show is open until May 30, from 4pm to 7.30pm (closed Mondays).

 

For more information call:

055 2343351 or visit www.fyr.it.

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