IN the early summer, I was scouting out artists for the BHD showroom. I was talking to a painter in the former hosiery mill on Chestnut Street; he said his neighbor a few studios down might fit the world of interior design. “Go check out Jimmy Abegg.” On meeting Jimmy, I fell into a sort of vortex of excitement. A whole field of limitless thought opens when you enter into his studio, where a guardian spirit is saying “as long as this guy works, he's going to produce beauty for us.”
He's a brilliant conversationalist with the self confidence and openness that makes an interlocutor at home. I have visited him five or six times since June, and each time I walk out of his studio I know I saw only a small portion of his paintings and drawings. And it bothers me.
As long as he is working, he seems to be earning his keep on the planet. In return the planet has afforded Abegg with a beautiful marriage, wise and equally artistic daughters, a new granddaughter, a highly successful professional photo career, as well as success as a touring musician. He's been a merchandising and disc packaging guru for many a band on an international level; it is a portfolio of hundreds. And he's a painter. Oils mostly.
I never got the number of years he's been producing fine art. He has hand-bound books of photographs of past paintings that have been sold. He did mention that when the economy plunged in 2008, it was painting that he fell back on to make a living. “Can you imagine? Having fine art as your back-up plan?”
“No. You're self taught, too.”
“Yeah, self taught. If I had graduated from the Art Institute and had a degree or two, would I be doing this?”
We both stopped and looked at each other, knowing the answer to the question before I said, “You'd be lucky if you were doing this and had an art degree.”
“Yes, I have a great life. I feel very lucky.”
On my first visit, he said, let me show you these. They are called “Spirit Levels” and he paints them in series. They are approachable with a fine design sense and balance. Oils on prepared paper.
“I work a piece until it is finished. Hours turn into days usually.” Layers, solvent, layer, dry, layer, until it is done. What's the goal? “It is done when it is done,” Jimmy said.
He grew up in Nebraska. When he settled in Nashville and started working as a musician and artist, he was able to provide his mother with a photographic portrait of one of her favorites, Merle Haggard. He also furnished her with a print of John Cash, Johnny's son, and somewhere in the mind that is a Mother's Pride, she believed he played with Johnny, but no. For the record, Jimmy and Johnny never played together. And I have no copies of those portraits here. In fact, due to time limitations, I have laid a hand on maybe five photographs. Again, it bothers me. Thankfully, his website has a nice sampling of photos. It is fair to say he is a master of photographic portraits.
He grew up with a rigid spiritual background and found his faith was greater than any closed form. His is more like flight, tumbling and rising frequencies, love and acceptance. His work is never far away from his faith, nor is it ever far from the intuitive.
Jimmy Abegg will be featured at BHD through December. We would love to introduce you.