Jimmy Abegg is losing his eyesight, yet he continues to paint. In fall 2018, the Cody Center at Laity Lodge mounted a retrospective of the last five years of Jimmy’s art-making, ranging from large oil paintings and watercolors to wood-carvings and found-object sculptures.
“When I could still see clearly, I’d start every morning of each day by painting a portrait from my imagination,” Abegg said. Five years ago, the Nashville-based guitarist, songwriter, and painter was diagnosed with macular degeneration. “As my eyesight began to fade, the way I work had to adapt to suit what I could see. I decided to proceed without glasses or magnification of any kind knowing fully I must embrace my blindness if I were to continue making art without the headaches that accompanied the use of a loupe, magnifying glass, or glasses.”
Floaters; 2013; Oil on canvas, 34″ x 213/4
Jimmy’s close friend Debbie Taylor, an accomplished painter in her own right and frequent art workshop instructor for the Lodge, assembled and curated the show.
Taylor said, “I hoped to provide a visual timeline of these last five years since Jimmy’s diagnosis … We start with earlier detailed work and move onto the recent and very tactile pieces where, as the artist puts it, ‘my hands are my brushes now.’
“As you walk through the gallery, you will see the gradual changes in method and medium. What I hope will be evident is that Jimmy has never stopped working to find new ways to continue art making in spite of his dimming vision. His work … is still recognizable as his own.”
Taylor, Abegg, and their good friend, cinematographer Ben Pearson, made a roadtrip from Nashville to Texas to hang the Cody Center show in early September, the week before the first fall retreat, a trip which allowed them to be among the very first guests to experience Laity’s new lodging.
“We had driven Jimmy’s art collection from Tennessee,” Taylor recalled. “We turned off at the entrance late afternoon. The excitement was off the charts. I was about to introduce two dear friends to the Canyon and Laity Lodge.”
There has long been an open and generative path blazed between Nashville and Laity Lodge, with many Tennessean artists, musicians, and speakers making frequent treks down to the Texas Hill Country. Abegg—known in music circles as Jimmy A—is simply the latest in that long line.
“We drove down to the canyon floor and stopped and got out at the river to let Jimmy take it in. His peripheral vision captured the place, the cliffs and the water. Ben took out his camera and did what he does best. That moment set the tone for the next two days.
“Every evening around 11 we made our way in the dark to an open space where we sat awestruck staring at the Milky Way above us. The stars filled the sky from one horizon to the other. Childlike wonder. One night we watched the moon rise over the silhouette of the cliff-top. We’d be out late with the only light being the one patio light. Pipes and guitars out, and conversations that went on into the late hours.
“One night, Jimmy went to his room to get something. When he turned around to go, there was a little raccoon standing there. He had followed Jim in. Just a word and he left.
“The last day, late afternoon, when all the work was done, the three of us headed out.
“I took Jimmy and Ben to the entrance of Box Canyon, and we slowly made our way into the heart of it. It was lovely to sit on the rocks and let our thoughts and heartbeats settle down. We lingered there in the center and listened to the water, the wind, and the birds.
“One of the gifts of being in this place is the natural rhythm that you begin to slip into [like when] Jimmy and Ben sat at an outdoor table quietly talking, both painting watercolors for most of the day.”
Abegg’s paintings are imbued with an optimism that eclipses his fading vision. “I hope these works will not just display a decorative beauty,” Abegg said, “but also reflect the calm and peace I have been blessed with in my heart, mind and body.
“I have come to believe the best life offers is invisible to the eye in the form of love, friendship, family, the care of an infinite creator … As long as I’m having experiences I’ll be making art reflective of my life.”
Monkey Bars Series; 2017
Oil on 140 lb. Arches Archival Paper, mounted on panel, 22″ x 33″