Abraxas shares his view of the beach

July 22, 2021

Abraxas Hudson, Lewes’ extraordinary painter of seascapes, and I are waiting at the Roosevelt Cut for the sun to rise.

How often does he get to the beach? “Whenever I think about it, I just go.”  He tried for a while to live inland, “But a piece of me is just missing when I’m too far from the sea.”  

Abraxas is already noticing things as he watches light begin to appear. Like a thin dark sliver in the water, way, way out where it meets the sky: “That’s the curvature of the planet; the sun is just below the horizon, which causes the earth to cast a shadow.”  

The sun comes into view as a soft, warm red-orange. “Red waves are at the top of the spectrum; their wavelengths can penetrate more quickly than other colors when the density is high. We see them first.”  He calls this process the “rainbow of atmosphere.” As the sun moves upward through less-dense air, yellow waves predominate that flatten the appearance of objects. 

How does he feel about the sun?  “Lots of gratitude.”  

Having just finished a biography about Leonardo de Vinci, I am thinking to myself that Abraxas’ meticulous attention to details must be what it would have been like to beach walk with Leonardo, whose notebooks are crammed with minute physical explanations of what he observes.

Brax and I have been friends for a good while; I regularly stop in at his Second Street shop for conversation. Since he is a true-blue son of Sussex County and I an unrepentant D.C. liberal, our chats are lively. But always respectful, leaving each of us looking forward to the next. 

What I find most extraordinary about him as an artist is that, except for a brief course or two along the line, he’s entirely self-taught. And what he’s taught himself best to do is see. 

“I think of art as active meditation. I go into the zone; the zone is a good place to be.”

We look through his eyes at the gently breaking surf. “I start looking at shadow and light. What’s reflected off the surface? What’s underneath that causes white water to break up? Look how the wave goes black when it’s disturbed and sun can’t reflect off it.” 

Then to the rich green moss on the breakwater wall. “Wet rock has high contrast; it’s more distinct because it reflects light better than dry rock.” He points out the different pattern when a wave hits the rock and then bounces back in a slightly darker ripple. I’m awed by this degree of granularity. 

“First I watch how light affects every square inch, then down to how it affects millimeters.” He sticks a twig in the sand, a makeshift sundial, to show how he determines the direction of light and its intensity. The more intense the light, the more distinct the shadows.

Tracks in the sand, those of a heavy dog next to a lightweight bird, attract his interest. As the imprint gets deeper, the shadow grows more intense. 

“I don’t use white, grey or black paint, so rendering shadows through their constituent colors makes you think about things.”

This prompts him to laugh at himself. “Who else would dig this deep?”

“Why,” I ask, “do you paint?” The question is so big, he’s unsure how to answer. 

“I love nature. In painting, I can accentuate my finite parts of nature. I look at the world with such detail of attention that I discover things others miss. 

“The artistic choice is deciding what stays and what to leave out. By digging into the science of the world around me, I can create a scene people can connect to. I need to share what I see with other people.” 

As we’re leaving, I again ask why he paints. 

“I was very shy; my father would say I was too shy to look in the mirror. Painting for me is a kind of conversation; I started early on because my verbal skills were inferior to my artistic skills. Art is my form of communication – that’s what drives me. I choose the scene, the lens I look into within the scene. I share the choices I make.”

  • Neil Shister, a lifelong journalist who has reported for national publications, has lived part time in Lewes since 2009. He is the author of “Living Lewes,” “Revealing Rehoboth” and most recently, “Radical Ritual: How Burning Man Changed the World.” 

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