Gary Abkin’s Grotesque Realisations

Californian artist Gary Abkin is something of an anomaly in the Australian art world. While so many of our hottest emerging artists view the Los Angeles art scene as one of the hippest spots to break in to, Abkin chose to swap America’s Golden State for our Sunshine State in 2003 (yes, I did just use ‘hip’ like your cool Uncle Alan. Shut up).

Perhaps it sounds like an odd move to make, but relocating to Queensland didn’t signify the end of Abkin’s art career. Continuing to show regularly in the USA, he has also built up an impressive Australian exhibition history, and gained a legion of fans with his abstract grotesques along the way.


As powerful conduits of distortion and disruption, his tragic figures inhabit a topsy-turvy world where nothing is in its place, where order is upset and life is darkly comic. Equal parts disfigured and ornamental, bizarre and awkward, excessive and unreal, Abkin’s work has a tendency to evoke empathy rather than despair in the viewer. Perhaps that is the key to his inter-continental appeal. Consciously or otherwise, we recognise our insecurities in their unsettling depictions.

As Abkin himself has said of his work:

‘My recent awkward and sometimes grotesque images, vacillating between abstraction and the figure, offer an insight into the human condition. During a practice that begins with automatic marks and the subsequent responses with colour and line, unsettled moments of understanding are found. These insights, that I may not be ready to deal with or accept, intrigue me.’

I suspect therein lies the crux of Abkin’s charm. I doubt there’s a person alive who hasn’t experienced the “unsettled moments of understanding” that life has a tendency to throw up. And, in those moments of self realisation, don’t we all see in ourselves an element of the grotesque?

Check out more of Gary Abkin’s work on his website

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