A 63-Year-Old Artist, Writer, Fashion Model, Dog Walker, and Upper West Sider Shows her Art at Manny’s Bistro – West Side Rag
By Peggy Taylor
For the past year, the white, back wall of Manny’s Bistro, on Columbus Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets, has been hung with striking 4’ by 2’ photographs by Jazz at Lincoln Center photographer, Frank Stewart.
But last Thursday, owner Manny Colon took two of Stewart’s sax and trumpet players down to make way for twenty 5”x 5” stick-figure illustrations by up-and-coming, 63-year-old artist, writer, fashion model, dog walker, and Upper West Sider, Dee Abrahamsen. Under the rubric: “You Are What You Art,” she has created a charming gallery of figures, celebrating actors, authors, musicians, photographers — and Manny.
It is Dee’s first-ever art show, but she can barely bring herself to call it that. “For me it’s just putting up some drawings in a friend’s restaurant.” For her, even the word “art” is too grand. “I never studied drawing or painting. I can’t draw eyes so all my figures wear sunglasses. I can only draw stick figures, but I try and give them character and personality, try and get a moment of their souls and put it in a square.”
Created with “the minimally essential amount of lines” to celebrate the complex stories of her subjects, Dee’s seemingly simple stick figures speak from and to the heart, and today she enjoys a loyal following, not only of friends, but also of far-flung fans. She’s well known on Instagram, and her portraits have been commissioned by New York City restaurants, residences, and the Plaza Hotel. “Even the doormen in my building like my work,” she says, pleased.
Dee doesn’t just draw celebrities. On her website, she features a rubric called: “My Girls,” in which she depicts single Upper West Side women, whom, she says, “are really different facets of me; women who are identified by what they’re doing rather than by how they look.” She captions one of these drawings with: “Remember; you are not your hair.”
For women overwhelmed by multitasking, she dedicates a series entitled: ”You Don’t Have to Master Everything,” and her accompanying captions go from clever, witty, and whimsical to touching, poignant, and deep.
The source of her inspiration is the city, “the world in miniature,” and, particularly, the Upper West Side where, she says, “You can’t walk a block without getting an idea.”
Dee doesn’t develop her ideas on paper with an ordinary, graphite pencil. She creates her drawings with the Adobe Fresco painting and drawing app built for the iPad and Apple Pencil. “When I bought my iPad three years ago, I spoke to it and asked it if it would change my life. It did. It did not lie.”
I chatted with Dee (of Norwegian and Polish “peasant stock” she specifies) in her spare, nearly 500-square- foot studio, on the second floor of a high-rise near the Hudson. She described herself as “a 63-year-old broad who camps out in a fancy New York building, with a mattress on the floor and a view of the courtyard fireplace.” That mattress lies right above the building’s pool, where she swims forty-five minutes every day, staying trim and fit.
We chatted over Spanish Marcona almonds, rugelach, and pecan cookies lit by two tall, slender, avocado green candles. Her favorite color. She charmed me with her warm, wide smile, ballerina-like gestures, and as she described her hair, her “two-inch tuft of gray waving from the crown of her head.”
When Dee was beginning this adventure three years ago, a friend said: “You’re too old to start something new. Your chances of success are equal to the chances of the sky turning green. That friend was wrong. In Dee’s world, the sky turns green.
Her future projects include a series of books for young girls “to help them navigate our precarious times.” Her portraits at Manny’s will remain as an evolving gallery, and she’ll create two large works for the side walls.
“Who says,” she asks, “that an old broad can’t learn new tricks?”