Wednesday, January 30, 2013

elvis has left the building

Show's over and for those of you who may have missed it, here's the virtual tour...

 Blue was excited to design the exhibit poster.  He drew this with no direction from anyone and he was very proud.  We put some text in the white space he left in the lower middle.  This was the first thing visitors the the gallery would see when they walked in the door.  

 I was required to have a guestbook.  I've never had to provide a guestbook before and I'm not sure why these are used in galleries from time to time.  Since no one ever writes bad things in them, perhaps it's to make you feel good when the show is over.  It worked.

 Among the kind words there was this gem of a comment.

"Thanks, it makes me smile", written by a grownup.  I'll take it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

gallery talk from 1/17/2013

If you were not able to attend the reception, this is what I think I said during the gallery talk:

This exhibit is titled “The One About Pop” and you may have figured out that it’s a show about my dad.

My dad was an awesome guy and he passed away last spring.  There were lots of cool things about him but one of the coolest things was that he had a superpower.  He had the power to make people laugh.  Now, it may not seem like a superpower to make people laugh, but he had the distinct ability to make people laugh even when they did not want to laugh.  That’s pretty tough to do.  In the moments when sadness, grief or stress exerted their evil powers over people, my dad would fly in and crack a joke, say something inappropriate or tell a funny story.  It seemed to be his way of reminding people that we should not take life so seriously.  Or maybe it was his way of showing us beauty when we were not looking for it. 

We may not be looking for beauty at a funeral, for example.  We may be all ready to grieve and be sad as we were at my dad’s funeral.  But the hundreds of people who came out to his graveside service all came to us one by one and told us funny stories about things my dad did, things he said or crazy situations he got himself into.  Instead of sadness, we found laughter in the beauty of the happiness he brought to everyone around him.  It was a memorial that suited him. 

My dad’s love of laughter and storytelling are elements I hope come through my artwork.  The drawings and sculptures in this exhibit very often deal with serious or even sinister subject matter, but each one has a cartoonish look and a shiny surface to indicate that it’s not all bad news.  The bright colors and goofy imagery play the role of my dad as they try to bring a smile to the viewer.  The storytelling through imagery may not be as straightforward as my dad’s stories were, but the narratives are present in each work.  In each piece I’ve arranged for the presence of a setting, a character or two and a few props.  Even though the dots are not all connected for you, they are present and they wait on you to complete the picture. 

My dad is responsible for us being at this exhibit in at least a couple of other ways.  He was the welding instructor at Swofford Vocational Center for most of my childhood.  When I was seven years old he taught me to weld.  This likely sounds preposterous to you but there was a perfectly logical and rational reason for it.  My brothers were both older than me and both knew how to make themselves scarce when my dad looked like he needed help in the welding shop he had at our house.  Not finding them, he stood before me and asked me if I wanted to learn how to weld.  I suppose that I was too small to hold the heavy pieces of steel, so by default he needed me to weld them while he held them. 

This affected me in two ways.  First, I learned at seven that I loved making things - real, three-dimensional things out of steel.  I still remember what I made that day and how proud I was of it.  That love of making things carried over into drawing and eventually sculpture.  Second, by learning to weld at 7 and spending the next 33 years learning from my dad's wisdom, I now have 34 years of experience in a sculptural material that not many 41 year olds have.  Everything I know about steel and welding I learned from my dad.  I was still learning from him in the months before he passed away. 

Still, I did not set out to create a body of work about my dad.  As much as he meant to me, I figured that would have been a disaster.  I wrote something a couple of months after his death where I compared dealing with the death of a loved one with eating an elephant.  I asked, how do you deal with such a significant change in your life?  The answer was, the same way you eat an elephant.  One bite at a time.  So during the summer months when I worked on the drawings and sculptures in this exhibit, I was digesting this change one bite at a time.  Each work then, has some sort of relationship to my dad.  Some were born out of funny stories he used to tell us when we were kids.  Some use imagery that relate specifically to him.  Some deal with things he taught me about work ethic and attitude.  There is a piece of him in each and every work chosen for this show.

As an abstract artist, it is not my intention to create work that shouts at you and tells you exactly what to think.  I have no interest in making work that says to you “Hey, this is what I am” or “this is what I mean”.  Instead, I choose to make work that hints, nudges and suggests certain ideas or concepts to the viewer.  It is then up to the viewer to fill in the blanks based on their own personal histories and narratives.  This approach is more like a visual conversation between the viewer and the work of art.  The art may suggest a thought by way of an image or a color.  The viewer may respond by thinking that there’s something familiar about that image.  Then the work of art may reveal another image or a contrasting idea.  The viewer then must figure out what relationship the two ideas have and what it means.

Contrary to what I thought when I was a kid, there is much work and effort that goes into this process of abstraction.  There are hours spent working to evolve a recognizable image in my sketchbook.  Then other images may be joined together to generate new ideas.  With so much time and effort devoted to creating such an experience for the viewer, I hope you will understand my refusal to simply tell you what a sculpture means.  I love for people to ask and I want to you have those questions, but please do not be offended when I answer your questions with more questions.  I prefer to know what the viewer gets from the experience.  This work is not just about me and my stories, it’s about all of us and our shared experiences as humans. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

the reception

Last Thursday was the reception for "The One About Pop", a solo exhibit at the Chapman Cultural Center Guild Gallery in my hometown of Spartanburg.

Sparkle City is a tough town for contemporary art and I've had some less than stellar experiences with exhibits there.  In fact, a few years ago I told myself I'd never go out of my way to try to show there again.  Nothing personal against anyone there, it's just that there are expenses involved with any sort of exhibit and when you do several and sell nothing, it's just good business sense to cut your losses and move on to greener pastures.  

This exhibit happened because of Robin, the executive director of the guild.  She's cool and she asked.  As much as I did not want to invest in another exhibit there, I decided that this was an opportunity to get people exposed to contemporary art and possibly even make them smile.

 It ended up being worth the trouble if only because of the fun my kids had with it.  That's Violet being adorable with the art.  You saw the images of Blue drawing with tape on the gallery floor, right?  Well, he enjoyed being a part of the installation so much that I decided that he needed to be the designer for the poster to hang out in front of the gallery.  

He was so proud.  It's a house with space inside for a printed ad for the show.  There are angry bird pigs on the roof, a trident, a ladder, a snowman cloud, "ART" at the top, several references to God and my favorite part "Doug's son Connor, Connor McAbee 6 years old".

He looked forward to the reception for weeks and he and Violet reminded us every day that soon we'd get to go to the "art show".  They enjoyed being there.

 Lots of family and friends came out to make the hours pass by faster.  The reception was timed with the local art walk which runs from 5-9 pm.  That's a long time for me to be social.  I mostly stood around and watched people.  There were lots of elderly visitors and some of them were very kind and supportive.  One elderly gentleman told me how good it was to see contemporary art in Spartanburg and he couldn't believe that I was showing it there.  He urged me to get my work in galleries in New York or Los Angeles....believe me, I've tried....and then he told me a very interesting story about how he met his wife.  

It was also fun to watch people react to the food we served.  Since the show was about my dad, Ginger had the idea to serve some of his favorite foods.  We had his favorite cake made by my mom, peanut butter and banana treats, sweet tea, and chicken, rice and gravy in a cup.  You read that correctly, chicken, rice and gravy in a cup.  The nice lady in the photo above is eating it and she's just realizing that it's delicious instead of gross.  It was really good.  That's Delightful Dishes in Inman, SC for all your catering and lunch needs.  

As I said, lots of friends and family came out.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, second cousins...the works.  Laura Jean and mom were there.  Brother David and his wife and oldest daughter ventured down from the mountain.  Doris drove from Greenwood as did Dr. Neely.  Beth and Wayne drove from Rock Hill.  I was honored that they made such an effort, especially on a night when the National Weather Service was predicting 1-3 inches of snow to fall during the reception hours.  The only bad part about it was that they all came to hear the artist talk I was supposed to give at 7:30.  My secret plan was that if only a couple of people were there, I'd just try to forget about it.  But when people drive for more than an hour, you have to suck it up and do the talk.  

I think someone said that the key to success is to surround yourself with good people.  I think I've got that part under control.  Georgie juggled kids, delivered wine and prepped food, all while making sure homework was done.  Ginger (photo above on the left, the one with her eyes closed while she's telling me not to take her picture) came up with the food idea, made the food in creative ways, served the food from her traveling kitchen and still managed to take in some art and people watching.  Did I mention she owns Delightful Dishes in Inman?  Excellent club sandwiches, baked spaghetti and chicken & rice casseroles.  Ali (the one beside Ginger) drove all the way from Saluda, SC to be the bouncer and bartender. These are good people.

The exhibit is up through Jan 29.  Go see it and write something funny in the guest book. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

the one about pop

reception and artist talk thursday, jan 17

reception 5:00-9:00, artist talk at 7:30

there will be wine and i'll be serving some of my dad's favorite foods.  chicken rice and gravy, peanut butter banana snacks, mom's butternut cake and sweet tea.  all provided by my mom and delightful dishes in inman, sc.

Monday, January 14, 2013

movin' on up


I'm glad we got that over with.

New Year's Eve has never been super special to me.  I get no thrill from watching a mechanical sphere slide down a pole in Times Square.  Quite frankly I get the shakes just from seeing such a crowd of people on TV.  For about 12 years New Year's Eve was just a night when the dogs would be terrified and barking all night because the neighborhood goofballs would shoot bottle rockets until 3:00 am.  Then it was a night where the bottle rockets would wake screaming babies.  Oh and there was that one time way back in high school when some girl dumped me on New Year's Eve.  I'm not going to mention any names but I ended up marrying her.  Go figure.  

Most years I'm up well past midnight, but only because I'm drawing.  Most years G makes an attempt to stay up and watch the ball drop but often closes her eyes before it happens.  This year the circumstances had us both awake and G's first words at midnight, her last words to 2012 were:  Good riddance!

2012 was tough.  I wanted to hate it several times and blame it for all sorts of things.  The problem was that it wouldn't just play the bad guy.  Each time something bad would happen there would be some sort of moment that would almost redeem it.  Almost.

So at midnight on New Year's Eve we made a point to stay up just to make sure 2012 left without a fuss.  He didn't keep any of our tshirts and didn't take any of our CDs.  He politely put on his hat and walked out.  

I believe it was the great philosopher George Jefferson who said "...and don't let the doorknob hit you where the good Lord split you."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

on the last day of christmas

My last day of Christmas break was spent refinishing this cast iron tub.  Sounds like a great time, right?

 But it was better than the first day of Christmas break.  That one was spent doing all my Christmas shopping and then driving 2 hours in the other direction to pick up all my pedestals from school and then driving back home to unload them and begin the process of cleaning and repainting them.  Long story.  We don't have time right now.

 There was a good bit of the fun Christmas-ery though.  I grabbed the above photo while we were playing one of my mom's famous Christmas party games at the McAbee party a week before Christmas.  We have lots of kids and grand kids.  They are passing around a gift wrapped box and if the music stops while you are holding it, you get to unwrap it and see what's inside.  It's almost always another smaller gift wrapped box but there's usually some treat with each unwrap.  It's always fun.  My mom's awesome.

 Everyone got in on the spirit of giving this year.  Zeke brought us a fresh deer leg from the woods.  He ate most of it, but it's the thought that counts, right?

 Violet got some baby dolls.  This one was a gift from Laura Jean.  It was a big hit.

 Blue got a cool Spiderman wrist shooter thing that he loves.  I could have shown you the photo of him posing with it, but I just love this photo so I used it instead.  He shares my love of the sweets.  That one was at G's family Christmas Eve Shindig.  

 And then just our family of McAbees had our annual late breakfast eat-a-thon at my mom's on Christmas morning.  Eggs, bacon, sausage, breakfast casserole, bacon breakfast casserole, blueberry muffins, biscuits and I can't see or remember what else is down there by the Blue Bonnet.  If you're jealous, you are feeling the correct emotion.  It was delicious.

 G found the Blue Like Jazz movie for me for Christmas.  I think I watched it that night.  It was really good.  I love Miller's books and his approach to thinking about spiritual things.  Different from the book in story, but it's all pretty much there in content.  Very nice.

 And I may have devoured the whole box of Godiva chocolates while watching it.  

 Then Blue helped me set up the solo exhibit in Spartanburg.  That's him up there making me nervous by touching the artwork.  He's wearing his Spiderman hat and mittens, also from LJ.  Oh, and you should go see the show, or better yet, come to the reception on Jan 17.  Since the show is about my dad, we've decided to feature some of his favorite foods at the reception.  Mom's making a few butternut cakes and Ginger is figuring out how to serve chicken, rice & gravy to gallery visitors along with some sort of peanut butter banana concoction and you can get some sweet tea to go with that.  We'll have stern bartender Ali there serving wine too, but the sweet tea is going to go best with the foods.  Trust me.  

 G and I found our gift to the bathroom too.  This one was rescued from an old mill house in Lyman, SC.  The rust was free.

 After a day working with power tools and a wire brush, the paint made it look a little better.

 Then there was the birthday hike at Caesar's Head.  I milked the birthday for all it was worth by dragging everyone up to the top of the mountain, then forcing them all to walk down a mile through the woods to a waterfall and then a mile back up to the car.  They're welcome.  

 I got lots of cool birthday loot.  Blue made me a lego creature, Violet made me a lego "house" and both drew me cards.

The birthday came at the end of the break so after tiring everyone out with the hike, I dragged them to downtown Greenville for good BBQ and then came home to enjoy my S'mores cupcake courtesy of Ginger and Delightful Dishes.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

i love this guy

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tom Starland. 

Tom is the publisher, editor, creator and king of Carolina Arts Magazine.  Ok, really he shares all that with Linda, his better half.  If it's art and it's in NC, SC or GA and you heard about it, you probably owe that to him. 

Tom's really great to us at Lander and he's been kind to me for many years.  A man this cool needs to have have a shirt to match his coolness.  Just before Christmas we mailed him a sculpture shirt and today he gave me a heads up that he had put something about it on the Facebooks. 

Such a nice thing for him to do for us.  And did you see that beard?  Excellent beard.  I'm jealous. 

If you exist in Facebook land, find Carolina Arts and friend it or like it or whatever you do there.  Then go to to download the January issue of the magazine for free.  Then go to to read his Carolina Arts Unleashed blog.  Then send Tom a note to thank him for all he does.