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Former bartender paints observations

“The four horsemen of the apocalypse walk into a bar…” What sounds like the beginning of a joke is actually the inspiration behind artist Marcy Abhau’s “Behind Bars.” The series of paintings reflect experiences she had as a bartender while attending art school.

“I wanted to paint all the people who came into the bar and took their seats to drink from me and then turned to each other,” Abhau said.

“Everyone who came in brought with them a mood, a temperament, a desire, a problem,” she said.

Abhau shared her collection of paintings and the stories behind them with Eastern students and faculty on September 29 in the Baird library. The presentation was part of the “Ways of Seeing” series of arts seminars organized by English professor Betsy Morgan for her Creative Process class.

Though the desire to portray the people she encountered as a bartender came to her while she was still in art school, Abhau said she did not pursue the project until thirty years later. Instead, for the first thirty years of her career, she became adept as a painter of landscapes and flowers.

Her first attempt at recreating the bar atmosphere depicted customers seated on barstools against the light backdrop of shelves of liquor bottles. It was not until she got the idea to incorporate cowboys into the scene that the project came to life for her.

“Painting is a work of the imagination and you can do whatever you darn well want,” Abhau said.

Whiskey for me and my partner became the starting point for an entire series of paintings using metaphor and imagination to incorporate all kinds of characters into bar scenes.

One painting that featured three men in togas seated around a table in the bar was titled, Plato, Aristotle and Socrates discuss the meaning of life over martinis.

Unfortunately, Abhau’s work has received criticism because of its narrative qualities, and she has had difficulty selling the paintings as a result.

Abhau has no intention of giving up the project, however.

“What I care about in the painting is the authenticity of the experience. This is the way I want to paint,” she said.

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