Artwork by Armando Baldinelli
Mixed Media, 1957
32cm x 47cm
Those who were not good friends or directly related to Lionel know even less. He was an enigma to everyone, his thoughts were completely his own, what came out of the interviews I held with friends, family and acquaintances was not a greater understanding of his art, but a lesser understanding of the man.
There is no doubt however, of his great influence on other artists of his time. I have been told that he was an “artist’s artist”, much respected by his contemporaries but relatively unknown to the public. This was largely due to his unwillingness to exhibit and his wish to have as little to do with the art world as possible.
For as long as I can remember, friends and family have pushed him to exhibit. “What for?” he said. He brushed off the idea of an exhibition as “Show Biz” and the paintings, he said, were “For the estate”. It is clear that he always despised speaking about and marketing his art but, unlike many who might have had similar feelings, Abrams eventually stopped speaking and dissolved ties with the art world.
That was his attitude even as his paintings moved away from abstraction and began to suggest enticing references to history, hidden puns, strange juxtapositions and obtuse connections, he never spoke about them and they seem to be included for his own pleasure.
A more personal story concerns Lionel’s mother, Ella Abrams who came to South Africa during World War II from Lithuania. Ella desperately wanted Lionel to become an architect and when he quit architecture for Fine Art after his second year, she pleaded with Yiddish inflection: “Why do you want to paint Lioney, it collects dust”.
His work is dispersed throughout South Africa including representation in the South African National Gallery, Pretoria Art Museum, Rembrandt Art Foundation, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Trust Bank Collection and the Sasol Collection.
By 1961, Abrams had made a name for himself, he was an Artist of the Future and yet he died in 1997, relatively unknown or forgotten. Abrams’ last one-man show was in 1981.
Lionel was my uncle and we spent a lot of time together in the last two years of his life. Most of that time was spent in comfortable silence. He was not aloof, nor did his disinterested attitude to the art world follow through into his personal relationships. He taught me how to make Mountains.
I remember, once, we spoke about his art and he said to me “Richard” he said, “talking about art is like dancing about architecture”. I remember nodding, thoroughly unsatisfied.” – Richard Penn August 1998