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ABBEY GOLDEN

ABBEY GOLDEN

" It’s not so easy to navigate nostalgia. As the events of recent years have shown, sentimentality for the past comes wrapped in problems; whose past, exactly, are we romanticising? And if we get stuck there, what happens to the present? By the same token, the past never looked so good. As the second year of the coronavirus pandemic rumbles on, it’s hard not to think longingly about the world before, and the possibilities of what might have been. "

POSTED BY 17/08/2021 by


This strange tension lies at the heart of LA-based painter Abbey Golden’s triumphant ‘Golden Years’ series. With her trademark palette and eye for storytelling, she explores the faded, sun-bleached world of Florida’s retirement communities. Across the series we see retirees hard at their new work of leisure: playing mahjong, boules, ping pong; lounging by the pool. These are the golden years of figures both touched and untouched by the pandemic; the vulnerable isolated with the vulnerable, cocooned in the peaceful rhythms of life’s end while outside, disaster rages. In this sun-drenched world of the fading and the shifting, possibility gives way to reminiscence and the patterns of light on the pool floor ripple out across everything, safe, like a dream.

It’s a precarious security, as fallible as the comfort of nostalgia and memory. Fleeting motions, seized by Golden’s sensitive brush, that extinguish themselves in their completion.

From her outdoor exhibition space, in her backyard on the West Coast, Abbey spoke to Terra Cotta Prints to explain more about her remarkable - and timely - work.

It’s about fleeting moments, capturing the ephemeral, specifically with age and time. The paintings are sun soaked and very Florida; have these kind of vibrant characters living out their lives together, super active, in a really joyous way.

Tell us about the Golden Years series

It’s about fleeting moments, capturing the ephemeral, specifically with age and time. The paintings are sun soaked and very Florida; have these kind of vibrant characters living out their lives together, super active, in a really joyous way.

What was the process of working on these paintings like? You must have spent a chunk of time sketching and making photos at this retirement community - how did it come together in the series?

Before I started work on ‘Golden Years’ I was mostly painting vintage photographs. I got really into a vintage pop thing, I would collect old sports illustrated magazines, and old playboys, there was this magical combination of figure, pop, vintage. They’re cool paintings, I experimented with all kinds of materials, but they weren’t that personal, and they kind of were limited, because they weren’t, like, mine. What happened was I kept painting, exploring, I painted this photo I took of my dad on south beach in Miami, - my parents live in Florida - and there was just something deeper to that painting. It happened to be right around the time that my mum got diagnosed with Alzheimers, and I realised that through this painting I was touching on this nerve end in myself.

So I realised, this is the new direction and I need to go to Florida and I need to explore what this is, and I started building, it was almost like building fire. I was collecting things, sketches, taking photos, going to visit my parents a lot, studying like a journalist, researching. And through that, through these personal things, more universal pieces started to fall into place. Like their friends, or people by the pool.

LA has been terrible, serious lockdowns. The past 18 months it’s just - home. I think that was useful, in a sense, because I distracted myself a lot beforehand, and with all distractions being taken away it was just me and this canvas. The fire was already going, so I was able to really just build this fire, and also tap into the loneliness and the isolation that a lot of these subjects in my paintings I wanted to convey. They’re older, and they’re among the most vulnerable populations. In this time I thought a lot about them, the way that they’re being handled, or mishandled. It added a whole new perspective to the work.

With that view the context that the figures occupy becomes super interesting. The fact that they’re removed from anything else that we might have a frame of reference with, instead they sit against these patterned backdrops. They’re safe, but they’re also apart.

My parents are in this 55-and-older community, and it’s so fascinating to me because it’s exactly what you just said, contained, apart. It’s very disconnected from my world. Quarantine, it was like we were all in our own little bubble; downtown LA was post-apocalyptic. It still kind of is. You’re not going and hanging out in downtown LA right now, during covid, so you are kind of separated, in this haze; I do also kind of look at that pattern as a kind of memory thing. It’s dreamy, it brings up those feelings of isolation and containment.

Is that the driving force behind the decision to be at once figurative and also kind of abstract, to use these patterns, or is that something that you’ve worked with before as well?

That really came from this idea. It’s something that I think I found my voice through. It was directly influenced by this feeling of a figure plus their environment. Not a figure in their environment; the environment and the figure are both just as important in my pieces. So these intricate patterns, backgrounds, are at once a pool and a background to that but on the other hand, especially when you get up close to them, they’re my most gestural moments. They’re all brushwork play. The figure might be what stands out first but when you have a second with it you realise that this environment that they’re in is equally as important. It’s all to do with the memory of it; is this a dream, is this a memory?

I really wanted to capture through brushwork these really fleeting moments like light coming through on the blinds, or playing mahjong and there being one piece and the hand’s gripping it really tightly, and the colour of the fabric.

Tell us about the nuts and bolts; how you bring your reference points together, how you work out your composition, whether you’re sketching on the canvas first or going straight in in paint?

I learned how to oil paint when I was abroad in Florence, when I was in college, so I was trained in this very traditional Italian Renaissance way; it’s funny because my paintings are very not that style. But actually, if you x-ray’d them they have a very traditional underpainting to them, all of them. An underpainting is something where you can really lay out what you want to go where.

Sometimes I’ll have some sketches of a face, maybe I’ll have some photos, maybe I’ll see a colour palette that I love, just in the world. But it really comes down to this, you put some colour down - you wipe it away. You put some colour down, you wipe it away; and you’re building almost like a sculpture. You’re building up layers in this underpainting that create the dimension you can see. You wait for that to dry, you do a layer of paint, you wait for that to dry.

It’s this slow, very slow building process. With that space, and that time, between each layer, you’re thinking all new things. You could be one person on Monday, and then Friday when you go back to it you’ve had a really bad day. It comes out in a different way. So a piece that you think, oh they’re just playing mahjong, is made over a month, two months, and I’m in a different state every time I approach this canvas. I think when you really spend time with them you see different emotions, and different perspectives.

Sunday,Monday,Tuesday,Wednesday,Thursday,Friday,Saturday
January,February,March,April,May,June,July,August,September,October,November,December
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