About 20 years ago, Eric Abrecht traveled on an African safari. He thought he was going to see the animals, but instead, he was struck by the colors around him. “I could not get over the landscape,” he remembers. “We drove six to eight hours and you could really see how everything changed as you drove. It could be almost like a desert with a little bit of green, and the next thing you know, you’re in the mountains.” The purple skies and neon green grass haunted him. When Abrecht got home, he took the still-life painting he had been working on and wiped it away. “I started doing these long, like sixty-inch-by-six-inch, wooden boxes,” he says. He has been painting these unusual landscapes ever since.
After a high school experience rich in the visual arts, Abrecht attended the Maryland Institute of Art and knew he had found his home. “Once I got to college, everything just sort of fell into place. Even the English class was geared towards art,” he says. “I knew this was what I was supposed to be doing.” It was all painting, all the time, and his professors changed the way he thought about the medium.
After graduation, he committed himself to becoming a painter, knowing that it would be a struggle. Luckily, the discipline that he had developed in high school paid off. He “pounded the pavement,” he says—walking into galleries, presenting his work, and eventually gathering enough representation to make a living. “I paint seven nights a week. Treating it like a business is not bad at all,” he says. “I do the work because it’s my job, but it’s a job that I absolutely love doing.”
Abrecht’s landscapes are not about place. While his work is rooted in the technical machinations of representational painting—there are horizon lines, swaths of sky, and clumps of trees—he is more interested in discovering what the paint can do. His current work has a muted, dirty palette. The paintings are powerful, but not pretty. Some have disintegrated to the point that all we see on canvas are stretches of raw, layered, dripping paint, and all that is left of the landscape is the palette and a scraggy line of cerulean blue in the place where the horizon might have been.
Abrecht uses landscape as a departure point. “For me, the landscape is just being used as a vehicle for the paint application to play around with the colors and movement,” he says. “It is a good home base to start from—there’s a lot of different directions I could take.” He presents the idea of a landscape and encourages his viewers to be transported. These are hazy, unspecific places of the imagination. “No one has ever asked, ‘Where is this?’ I don’t want it to look like I was outside painting somewhere.” For Abrecht, the imagining is the fun part. “I want people to know it’s a landscape, but when they see it up close, it takes their imagination away.”