ArtsATL > Art+Design > 30 Under 30: Sean Abrahams’ wild drawings suggest a psychedelic Dr. Seuss

30 Under 30: Sean Abrahams’ wild drawings suggest a psychedelic Dr. Seuss

Sean Abrahams: Burst
An untitled landscape by Sean Abrahams.
An untitled landscape by Sean Abrahams.

It’s easy to get lost in Sean Abrahams’ imaginative drawings. Using colored markers on paper, he packs a lot into rambunctious compositions that recycle pop culture imagery and psychedelic styles. In their horror vacui obsessiveness, some of his works suggest the hand of an outsider artist such as Adolf Wölfli or Martín Ramírez.

Abrahams intends for his work to be fun, and he succeeds. Think Dr. Seuss dropping acid. But the Alabama native’s penchant for colorful and wild designs belies a soft-spoken demeanor.

30under30_v3-e1375789369315Since receiving his BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta in 2009, Abrahams’ work has appeared at Kibbee, Beep Beep and Kai Lin galleries and, more recently, at the High Museum of Art in its “Drawing Inside the Perimeter” exhibition. Concurrently with the High show, a selection of Abrahams’ drawings appeared at {Poem 88}, which recently picked him up as a gallery artist.

The 26-year-old credits his hippie parents for his interest in art, which he began to pursue seriously in high school. “They’ve been really supportive and are the reason I have the aesthetic I do,” Abrahams says, citing their psychedelic Miles Davis album covers as one influence.

He works from home, a one-bedroom apartment in Midtown that he shares with his fiancée, Erin McCamant, who is also an artist (they showed together at Kibbee in 2010). Their walls are covered with dozens of artworks, their own and their peers’, among them Ashley Anderson, Allen Taylor, Kelly Cloninger, Lindy Lane and Lance Turner.

Though he worked in acrylic on canvas while in school, Abrahams now prefers drawing to painting because it takes less time to prepare and is portable. His method is surrealist — “stream-of-consciousness sketching,” he calls it. Or doodling gone wild.

Pulling from memory and his imagination, he choreographs the random visuals of his surroundings and our barrage of digitalia into dense thickets of cultural references: the Internet, comic books, movies, television, the work of other artists, “The Little Mermaid” and a construction pit where, until recently, an I.M. Pei building stood. Though he draws inspiration from diverse sources, he has a particular affinity for comics, artist books and ‘zines by art collectives such as Derraindrop and Paper Rad, both known for their raucous immersive installations. Color-saturated drawings by the late Ken Price (better known for his sculptures) are a new attraction.

Abrahams’ work rewards close looking, yielding new details on every viewing. One piece is titled “Homage,” which it achieves via appropriation. Among the maelstrom of images are the Rolling Stones’ “tongue” logo, animé characters, video games and a witch’s head lifted from a Paper Rad work.

Sean Abrahams in his home studio.
Sean Abrahams in his home studio.

Atlanta artist Ann-Marie Manker has also been influential for Abrahams, who shares her fondness for a hot-hued palette and trippy imagery. He studied with her at SCAD, and she was instrumental in giving him early exposure through her involvement with Kibbee, which led to opportunities at Beep Beep, Kai Lin, Dashboard Co-op and Swan Coach House Gallery.

Another supporter has been Carl James, proprietor of the fledgling art venue Secret Spot, who used to hire artists to create interiors for Mellow Mushroom restaurants. In 2011, James gave Abrahams his first major commission, for a restaurant in Lexington, South Carolina, and he spent a couple of months producing a large drawing in his signature style. It was then enlarged and used as wallpaper, making Abrahams’ figures and details loom large in an appropriately “Alice in Wonderland” way.

His recent series of landscapes are comparatively subdued. Without losing their alluring busyness, they introduce a horizon line, areas of emptiness and a sense of order. It was his parents’ interest in horticulture, the artist says, that inspired him to do landscapes, as well as his grandmother’s pressed-plant pictures. He wanted to make something for them, he says.

Abrahams’ cobbling-together aesthetic is finding its way into his working process. He’s been creating modular works pieced together from a progression of drawings on scraps of paper. He extends a single drawing onto an abutting piece by mirroring or continuing elements of the design onto one scrap of paper and then another.

Without the boundary of the paper’s edge, his imagination is free to wander in promising new directions.

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