November 2012 Issue
A conversation with David Abed:
“Inside the Glass Origin” (detail)
By David Abed
Open Letters: You mention on your website that you paintings might embody “medical intervention, disability, and bodily function/dysfunction” and of course this is thematically clear but specifically murky in the case of “Inside the Glass Origin.” The ball of flame she is about to touch might be a dividing cell, or a hyperplastic cell, or the origin of life itself. It provides the only light by which we can make out the figure, a pensive woman with a half-enchanted, half cautious expression on her face. Is this painting an allegory, or was there something more subtle taking place in its creation?
David Abed: I believe a painting often carries its own voice and dictates what it wants to be. The painting “Inside the Glass Origins” started with one meaning, or concept, and as my friendship with the model developed, this meaning evolved into something else.
My original intent for the painting involved the ideas of conception, generation, and being. The flaming orb represented dividing cells. The figure represented a woman, for the first time, becoming aware of being much more than herself—being both the origin and the creator.
While I was painting, I got to know the model over several months. She came from a deeply religious family. They had been raping her with guilt. During the time of the sitting, she slowly peeled the guilt away in layers. She started to come into her own practice and form her own beliefs about the world. It was a wonder to witness. The painting started to take on a different meaning then—one about rebirth and spiritual, moral, and personal growth.
OL: It sounds like your models sit for you for some time before the painting’s completed. Does a painting usually take months to complete? And does this have to do with their size or do you spend the same amount of time on small paintings? And how did you evolve into a painter of large canvases?
David: Paintings can take months to complete depending on how many paintings I have going and the dry time in between stages of a painting. My paintings usually have three to five stages.
Sometimes a painting is effortless; it paints itself. In this case, I might complete a painting in one or two months. I might complete a larger painting in less time than a smaller one.
Other paintings take much longer. I spend a lot of time just sitting in front of a painting. I think about the meaning. I see if the movement of the painting is working, if the gesture of the pose is how I envisioned it. This can take some time. For instance, I’m working on a painting now. The concept calls for a figure with one foot stepping forward, her trunk angled back, as if a weight is pressing on her chest or she’s being blown back by a strong wind. This pose would be difficult to get into and impossible to hold for any length of time, so I have to come up with an alternative pose that the model can get into and hold, but it also has to be a pose that I can work with and alter to fit my original concept.
Evolving into large-scale painting was all about developing confidence in my ability. I would travel to see larger paintings. In truth, they were the only way for me to really feel the emotion of a work. I wanted to experience that feeling firsthand, so I started my first large painting with a drawing to scale. In some ways, that drawing means more to me than the painting itself. The painting was all figured out in that drawing.
OL: Because you so often paint female figures, do you think you aim to say something specific about the female experience? And do you generally have a conception of a new work before you reach out to models, or do you begin with individual sketches and proceed from there?
David: I grew up with two sisters–one close to my age, one older. I suppose we all start at the beginning; who we are always carries over into our work. But the female and male are so intertwined. I always try to walk away with something more than just the point of view of a gender.
As far as how I compose, I work in a sketchbook to get the concept and composition out. For large work, I hire the model and draw the accent points (an arm in action or the leg flexed), then draw the figure as a whole. Then I take the drawing and start the painting from there. For works that are manageable in size, I go straight to paint, set the canvas next to the model and work directly.
David Abed grew up in Crystal Lake, Illinois. His father, who had emigrated from the Palestine, was a chemist, inventor, and restaurant/hotel owner. His mother—originally from a rural mining town in Appalachian Kentucky—is an exporter to the Middle East. David earned his BFA at Ray College of Design and studied at School of Representational Art where he draws from life and now teaches.
For more of his work, visit: http://www.davidabed.com/