Memory is important to me. I want to remain grounded in the past, but not stay there; the idea is to look to the future while looking back.
David Abecassis' atmospheric paintings revolve around the representation of memories and how they contribute to the formation of human identity. His work does not only represent personal recollections, but a collective memory, a juxtaposition and collapsing of images into one another to create a body of work that is relevant today. Observation and documentation turn into physical collages which change continually as the work evolves - the artist's aim being to instigate a convergence of the private and the public.
INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTIST
Q. Did you always want to become an artist?
A. Yes! I remember drawing as a child with my brother, who is also a painter. When I was like sixteen my friends were asking me to go out to clubs and stuff, which I did, but mostly stayed in my room drawing and painting and looking at art history books. My father, who wanted us to be doctors or lawyers, was so well read and had a great intellect, came into my room once and saw a painting I was working on and said: “Wow, if you can do that, that would be great.”. I guess he gave me his blessing then!
Q. You saw quite a few places during your art education, from Canada, to Florence, to New York. Could you describe how these different places and the institutions you studied at influenced your work?
A. Growing up in Canada and going to art school there brought me under the influence of some of the great teachers I studied with. They passed on a conceptual and thoughtful approach to artmaking which I still cherish. For my last year of undergrad, before my MFA, I went to Florence; this infused me with a respect for the craft itself and a grounding experience when it comes to the traditional aspects of art. Still, I am simultaneously careful to make work which is reflective of the times we are living. And I just love the art in New York.
Q. You have also taught art yourself, what drew you to passing on your knowledge in the form of teaching?
A. Many practicing artists I know teach to stay active in the arts and have another source of income. Teaching has been so rewarding - I’m always learning from my students. I have just been asked to teach a few classes at a private art school so I may do it again. But you know, I never hold back, I always give the students everything I know so they can realize their pieces in a way that accesses their full potential.
Q. Much of your work seems to convey the feeling of a snapshot, a memory of a specific detail at a specific moment in time. What is your source material for these subjects? Are they personal visual memories or photographs?
A. I work from life and observation as much as possible, but I also work from images or other sources. I like to combine them to make something new. I usually collage something together physically or digitally. The source image continually changes as the painting develops and the process shows me the way forward. Memory is important to me. I want to remain grounded in the past, but not stay stuck there; the idea is to look to the future while looking back.
Q. You have stated that with your work you are looking to form a connection, a convergence between the private and the public, how do you aim to establish this link and why do you think this is essential?
A. Specificity is important but so is the generality of the human condition. I have often thought: ‘Are we different, or are we the same?’ Well, both are true. While we may be different in our lived experience, we may be somehow… the same.
Q. How important is a certain sense of identification in your work? Is there something specific you would like it to evoke in the viewer?
A. If one of my paintings can trigger a viewer’s memory, then it can have a social function in bringing people closer together.
Q. You have mentioned that you aim for your paintings to be a starting point, a moment from which to look forward rather than back. Is this based on a certain melancholy in relation to current events?
A. At this moment, it probably has to do with that. There is a certain sense of melancholy and uncertainty I see in society right now. I guess it is one time in the continuum of life.
Q. Many of your works are highly atmospheric and seem to be reminiscent of photographs from bygone times, in which image quality was rather mediocre, but ambience and perhaps even a certain sense of mystery was much stronger because of technological imperfection. Is there a specific reason for you to choose this sometimes vague but characteristic rendering of your subject matter?
A. I have been attracted to those images for sure. I love looking at older photos with the quality you mentioned. There is something missing. But we see that now, looking back with our imaging technology now. Atmosphere and light are definitely some aspects of image making I am interested in. I have to fill in the blanks and add the missing information with what I see in this world. The painting always has to be more than a photograph.
Q. Does personal nostalgia play a part in your conceptual process?
A. Yes it does. Maybe less as time passes. But I can’t operate in a vacuum. We are informed by our lived experience and this comes through in the paintings.
Q. Which other creatives do you admire?
A. There are so many. Historically I’ve always liked Leonardo, Artemisia Gentileschi and Van dyke. More recently people like Gerhard Richter, Michael Borremans, Alice Neel.
Q. Could you describe your work in three words?
Haha, That’s hard.
Thoughtful - Autobiographical - Calm Emotion