"Isaac Abrams, Psychedelic Pioneer," Sept. 8-Oct. 6, 2007, at Microcosm Gallery, 542 West 27th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001
The 40th anniversary celebrations for the halcyon Summer of Love have lapsed into but another mediated flashback. And if you have any reason left to wonder why epic masses swarmed the Whitney Museum’s psychedelic retrospective earlier this year while every iota of the critical establishment either panned the art of that era or did their best to ignore the populist hubbub, you might want to take some time to see an exhibition of paintings by Isaac Abrams, one of the great pioneers of ‘60s mind-expanding visuals still working today. Hurry up -- his show closes this weekend.
An early psychonaut, first exposed to LSD in 1965 at the Dream Laboratory in Brooklyn, Abrams discovered during his experimentations new meta-spiritual, trans-substantive, oceanic spaces beyond the grasp of reason that compelled him to pick up painting as the best mode to manifest this new realm. With the 1967 publication of the seminal (and to this date sole) critical study Psychedelic Art by Robert E.L. Masters and Jean Houston, Abrams literally became a cover boy for this new movement. His classic biomorphic oil-paintings reproduced on the book’s cover as well as inside forever seared the retinas of the post-Bob Hope generation that presumably was to change the world.
Recently included in Tate Liverpool’s "Summer of Love" exhibition, subsequently seen at the Whitney, Abrams’ work is now on view at Microcosm Gallery, the space for visionary art founded four years ago by artist Alex Grey. What’s amazing to see in this rare New York show, which features new works dating 2006-07, is just how much further Abrams has traveled into this all-enfolding pictorial field. Featuring two major triptychs, titled Trip Ticket I and Trip Ticket II, with the larger painting measuring more than 7 x 15 feet, along with three more modestly sized canvases, the universe Abrams explores is indeed as vast as the imagination and as deep as the soul.
More to the point, the new work reminds us that Isaac was a self-taught artist straining to the best of his abilities then to capture the most elusive of truths. Now, generations after the hype has fallen from bloom, Abrams has attained a technical accomplishment and metaphorical sophistication that, beyond its utterly mesmerizing effect, also provides potent reminder that, despite our ongoing frenzy over novelty, in many cases mid-career artists far surpass the glory of their youth. Abrams is a dream-weaver, a maximal visionary who can be appreciated as a flavor or understood for its greater nutritional substance.
Perhaps the weather will be off, or your dope dealer is out of town, or you have to wash your butt-length hair and you simply cannot make it to Isaac Abrams’ show this weekend. Just make it over to Microcosm anytime. The truth is the gallery regularly shows the kind of eye-candy you’ll be stumbling around that Chelsea neighborhood all day trying to grab. If by some chance you catch Microcosm while it’s between shows, drop in at the adjacent Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, a life-changing epic masterwork by the foremost visionary artist of our time, Alex Grey. And if you still haven’t seen that yet, well, I don’t think I like you one bit.
CARLO MCCORMICK is senior editor at Paper Magazine.