For almost thirty-five years, the corner of Solano and Masonic Avenue in Albany was home to a beloved craft and art store called the Albany Arts Gallery. In 2015, artist Robert Abrams, a long-time resident of the Bay Area, took over the space, a gallery and a retail store that celebrates local artists that, some of whom also exhibited work with the Albany Arts Gallery. Almost three years later the Abrams Claghorn Gallery continues to change and evolve, but has fulfilled the dreams of Robert Abrams, becoming a gallery that represents unique and underrepresented artists, as well as a store selling local hand-crafted items and fine art originals and prints.
“I want to make art accessible to everyone in the neighborhood,” Abrams explained. “I want people to come into this shop and have the opportunity to see something new.”
Abrams has always been inspired by the melting pot of nationalities, ethnicity and religions that make up the artistic community in the Bay Area. He’s made it his mission to bring those diverse cultures and identities into both the gallery show and shop. Each show that the gallery puts on begins by Abrams seeking out artists with a distinct voice, who also have something meaningful to say. Two upcoming events at the space show how different yet connected exhibitions can be at the Abrams Claghorn Gallery.
Refuge – Pamela Blotner
The first show, Refuge, featuring new works by artist Pamela Blotner, will showcase sculpture and paintings that explores the meaning, both ideal and reality driven, that are inherent in the idea of ‘refuge.’ Blotner, a local artist, educator and curator, creates work that reflects on humankind’s relationship to nature, animals, science, calamity and healing. “I have to credit my friend, the very talented Bambi Waterman, who originally conceived of this exhibition as a two-person vehicle,” said Blotner. “I think that she was investigating the ways in which refuge could be provided, specifically for young animals. For me, the theme dovetailed with concern for human refugees as well – particularly with those newly created by the crises in Burma.”
The Refuge show, beginning April 3rd, won’t just reflect on the idea of refuge for humans, but also wildlife. The work seeks to imagine a new world without boundaries or borders. “My fascination with and love of animals was sharpened and focused by the years I spent as an artist and illustrator for the Houston Zoo,” Blotner explained. “It was really meaningful to work with endangered animal projects. For the past few years, we have all become painfully aware of environmental degradation and the heightened fragility of wild creatures.”
While Blotner is an artist, she’s also a human rights activist who has worked with the Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, and the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center, which influenced the upcoming show she is curating at Abrams Claghorn Gallery, along with fellow curator Mie Preckler. Beginning April 10th, Speaking Out: 9 Myanmar Artists, will be available for viewing at the gallery.
Speaking Out: 9 Myanmar Artists
Featuring nine contemporary Myanmar artists, Speaking Out will explore a range of human rights issues, such as civil conflict, repression, displacement and environmental exploitation. “I’d always been looking for way of marrying my creative endeavors with human rights and social justice work” said Blotner. “Mie and I are longtime friends, colleagues, and travelers, who share a deep commitment to art as a tool for educating, which is why we formed Artists Beyond Boundaries. We created the antecedent to Speaking Out in Yangon, last summer and taking the show to CA, was the logical next step.”
Each of the nine artists (Htein Lin, Ko Z, Kyi Wynn, Nge Lay, Phyu Mon, Soe Yu Nwe, Cynthia Theint Soe, Zoncy and ZZDD) will be represented by works on paper. Drawings, prints, paintings and photos will be accompanied by a statement about the work. There are also events surrounding Speaking Out, including a film screening, workshops, an artists’ experimental collaboration event, as well as artist and curator discussions.
Gallery owner Abrams has always loved the talks that artists give at the gallery, believing that they enable the artist to speak on their art as well as facilitate a conversation with the local community. “They can get to know the artist, gain greater insight into the artist’s work, and understand the decisions made while creating,” said Abrams. “You can better understand the artist’s intention, and why it might be interesting.”
Abrams also enjoys reaching out to the community in order to engage local artists in upcoming shows. He recently set out to find both artists and poets in order to collaborate on an upcoming exhibition that will focus on what women in our country hope to see in 2018 in terms of equality and other issues upon which they feel they have not been heard. This special show will exhibit the works of ten female writers. The walls of the Abrams Claghorn Gallery will show poems in a visual representation as interpreted by local artists.
Entitled ‘Have You Heard Us Yet?’, the show goes hand in hand with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements which have made such an impact on the culture and the country in the last several months. With the Abrams Claghorn Gallery continuing to shed light on these issues in this artistic way, Abrams believes that we will be closer as a society to bridging the gap between gender identities. The show will be on exhibition from June 5th to June 30th, with an artist reception on June 9th.
The Abrams Claghorn Gallery will continue to push to be a place where under the radar, under represented artists can have their voices heard and their work seen by their local community, continuing the rich tradition of the locale. Robert Abrams hopes that his business will continue to bring people in the community together in an artistic and open-minded way.
“We are trying to make the neighborhood more vital. We want people to know there is something happening close to your home,” Abrams said. “We want people to know that their own neighborhood has a lot to offer.”
This story was written by StoryStudio and published by the SF Chronicle.