PAUL ABRAMS

Published on May 24th, 2022

Paul Abrams

Daily papers, weekly magazines, glossy manuals, bound texts — where did they all go? Paper and ink are far from extinct, as we know from our junk mail and printer jams, but they’re in retreat as each generation absorbs more of its information on screens.

All of which is pure opportunity for collage maker Paul J. Abrams. Known by his whimsical Instagram handle, Oh_Pharts, Abrams is a self-taught artist based in West Palm Beach who is having his first solo gallery exhibition this month. He’s also the PureHoney featured artist for June 2022. And he knows just where to look for those old books and magazines.

Abrams’ forte is conjuring the strange and the unexpected out of ordinary images gleaned from discarded media. Forgotten but not quite gone, these dated volumes and periodicals acquire an exotic power and a hyper-real edge as the material image fragments of his offbeat, cut-and-paste works.

Abrams says in an interview that for him there’s nothing quite like vintage inked paper stock for making something new. And there’s a closeness to the art that is enhanced, he says, by the search for sources: “You almost have to hunt for that old magazine and old book; if you get a magazine from the ’50s it’s super delicate and means a little more.”

Using found materials, a glue stick and an X-Acto, Abrams has assembled a parallel world of humanoid figures with objects for heads, hybrid landscapes that hover between wild nature and home decor, and people situated in the oddest places.

A woman sleeps in a casserole dish under a blanket of baked cheese in a piece captioned “Carb crash!” Another, “Coral Drive,” travels a busy asphalt freeway to and from a florescent undersea kingdom teeming with life. Combining and harmonizing unlikely, contradictory elements, Abrams invites viewers to let their eyes and minds wander.

Another thing he likes about collage is the accessibility. “I can kind of sneak it in on weekends or at night,” he says. “I don’t need to take up a whole room or studio.” As a part-time artist (for now) with a full-time job in private security (and a lot of hours also committed to building a new house), it can be hard to find the time and space to create. But Abrams insists that anyone can pick up collage: “All you really need is a scissor, an old book, your imagination and you can go wild.”

A glimpse of his drafting table on Instagram, where he often posts how-to videos, makes clear how true that is. In the interview, he freely shares a piece of creative intel that other artists might guard jealously: It turns out that North Carolina — the state — is a motherlode for raw collage material. “North Carolina has really good second hand book stores,” Abrams says. Who knew?!

Abrams says he’s been making art since childhood but hit on collage a decade ago and found he had an affinity for it. Others have taken note. His work appears in the acclaimed, bestselling “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” a kind of emotional almanac of new words coined by author John Koenig to describe complex feelings and fleeting reactions to our surroundings. He’s been exhibited at galleries before, but his first solo show is this month at The Peach in West Palm Beach.

It’s been a long time coming, but Abrams believes Instagram helped by letting him share widely. It doesn’t hurt that his alias speaks to the sense of humor also present in his work — and he assures us there is more to it than a potential adolescent word gag. As he explains, “ph” is an abbreviation for photo; add it to “arts” and voila. “I take photos and turn them into art, you know?” he says. And for all the digitization of imagery today, a peek into any mailbox, estate sale or Goodwill store proves an enterprising collagist will always find what they need.

The Peach gallery in West Palm Beach welcomes Paul Abrams, a.k.a. Oh_Pharts, with an opening reception 6pm Friday June 3. His work will be on display through the month. More at thepeachwpb.com and instagram.com/oh_pharts/ ~ Veronica Inberg and Sean Piccoli

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