Mr. Art Ambassador

story and photos by Kay Thomas

When Naples artist Darryl Abraham decided to pick up stakes four years ago and follow his wife, Jan, on her new teaching assignment in Israel, his world scenery changed. His art evolved. It was inevitable.

Little did Darryl know when he left the United States that there would be a connection with his hometown through his daily artistic creations more than 5000 miles away.

You see, while in Israel Darryl was commissioned by the Naples Central School district to create a piece of art to be placed in the atrium of the new section of the school honoring the heritage of the community.

Always one to be curious about his environment, Darryl began his explorations and found the Jerusalem marketplaces fascinating studies. The intensity of the colors around him was magnified tenfold by the rich sunlight illuminating his paper. “I am affected by the sunlight.”

“Everything I studied at Sunday school, I saw right there,” says Abraham, referring to the Biblical locations of Jericho and the Sea of Galilee. Each became multiple opportunities for subject matter.

Before leaving for Israel Darryl taught at Mansfield University, Pennsylvania. He credits his chairman, Dr. Martha Whitehouse, for encouraging him to take the risk and turn the experience in Israel into a learning adventure.

While I was interviewing Darryl in his home studio, I told him to relax and sketch if he felt more comfortable, a skill he began developing as a child in grade school. He is a most unassuming man and finds it difficult to talk about himself. Art has always been his avenue, though.

Later, when I was in the process of writing the article, Darryl would send me quick email notes about one more thing to consider, and add a painting as a finishing touch. That’s not uncommon for him. Around Naples Darryl is known for his generous nature, and the person who drops off an original picture to a business or individual as a thank you or simple hello.

Best of all, Darryl shares his love for everyday people in rural settings and communicates their importance in his art. You could say he is a storyteller and his pictures depict a stop on the road to converse with a farmer planting his crops, or a merchant in the market organizing for the day’s sales.

Anyone admiring a piece from Darryl can’t help but feel a little humor in it, although it is not of a mocking or condescending variety belittling the common man. Rather, it’s glorifying his valuable contribution to society.

There is still one constant in the equation though, no matter how his art developed while in Jerusalem. It continues to have a regional feel, and themes of farming and vineyards tie him to the land, whether he is in the Finger Lakes region or in the Middle East.

There is a slight touch of Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, artists who traveled around the country in the 1800s depicting traditional life in huge murals, in Darryl’s quest to honor the gift of the land and those laborers who care for it.

Darryl’s style is hard to classify. Most people would agree that it is not folk art, nor is it primitive. He is a studied painter with an MFA from the University of North Carolina. He has been referred to in the art world as a Red Grooms, the artist known for his sculptural pictoramas demonstrating sensitivity to the cultural norm of the day. That’s not the case.

Unlike Grooms, whose representations are cityscapes and lack an intimacy with the people portrayed, Darryl is enmeshed deeply in rural locations with an appreciation for the stories behind individuals. This lifts his work off the page and into the imagination of the viewer.

After a little thought and study about how to describe Darryl’s art, I will use the term modern reductive, or minimal. Both his paintings and 3-deminsional versions of his work are like a narrative of what he passionately experiences around him. Darryl’s reliefs with miniature characters and landscapes come to life right in front of the viewer, and carry on an art form that has been around since the sixth century in Japan.

That’s the way it always has been for Darryl. He is grateful for his environment and the history that goes with it. There is a strong combination of art, college teaching and landscape design from his business that sets him apart. His work can be found at the Oxford Gallery in Rochester, and in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, along with other venues. His art can be found locally at Artizanns in Naples.

“I am appreciative of the trust from the folks at Naples school and Superintendent Matthew Frahm, to allow me to come up with something and run with it while I was so far away.”

Thus, Darryl’s ideas from memory turned into eight, ten foot by ten foot hanging panels and a floor pedestal celebrating the stories of the region. There is a feeling of distance and depth in each one. The reliefs hinge in large measure on the use of natural materials. Bits and pieces of moss, stones, twigs and clay from Naples and similar objects he found in Israel blend together in a cross-cultural exchange, so to speak. There are stones from the Sea of Galilee and clay from the Jordan River. He credits his wife for her constant encouragement and assistance.

Looking at the panels, one depicts the life at the school, another the nearby vineyards and farm fields. Cows graze, students play soccer, grapes are cultivated and folks ski on Bristol Mountain. They are dramatic vignettes in miniature that appear alive and moving instead of static on a background.

The one freestanding relief encased in glass is a replica of the Rectenwald barn, a longtime Naples family farm now the property of the Reservoir Creek Golf course.

While in Israel, Darryl worked on individual panels and upon his return to Naples in the summer of 2016 he finished the pieces in his garage. An official unveiling was held in January 2017 at Naples Central School.

Darryl told an audience at the dedication ceremony that he considers the project a closure documenting the heritage of many unsung heroes no longer alive. He referred to the Ed Rectenwald family and several generations of other Naples families present that evening.

“Art is what I see, feel and what I enjoy,” says Darryl.

With that, Darryl has left a gift for the students of today and tomorrow, a visual sense of pride for their community.

As for himself, Darryl finds a deep-rooted spiritual relationship in his ever-developing art and wherever it might lead him in the future.

Currently, Daryl’s latest work is exhibited at Mansfield University, Pennsylvania, in the Loomis Gallery, October 23- November 16th, Art From the Holy Land, including 3-dimensionals and watercolors. Opening reception is October 23, 11:35-1 pm.