Installation view, Art Toronto 2018
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is very pleased to present the paintings of noted Vancouver-based Black Canadian artist Jim Adams (born 1943) at Art Toronto 2018. This is the first time that Adams’ work will be presented at an art fair and it brings together some of his most accomplished paintings from the past four decades. At this important moment in Canada’s history, the work of Jim Adams, with its interrogation of identity that spans vast geographies and epochs, has much to say about this nation. Though Adams is not overt or dogmatic about his politics, the depiction of race in his work is both notable and poignant. In this exchange, he artfully uses the landscape and portraiture to prompt the viewer to further consider their own social role in wider histories: those histories that have passed, and those that are in the process of being created.
There is no definitive way to summarize Jim Adams’ vast corpus of artwork spanning five decades. Adams has invented a unique visual language of his own, one that is wide open by intent, creating a renewed sense of place that co-exists with layers of meaning. He cleverly blends present-day reality that resides within a historical landscape to shape a modern portrait of time and place. Adams’ lengthy career as a painter reveals the kind of artistic confidence that comes from a depth of art historical knowledge and applied to a body of work that demonstrates a breath of personal interests. His artworks completed in the 1980s and 1990s could characterize Adams as the preeminent Surrey-White Rock basin painter of that time.
Among the works to be presented at Art Toronto, Adams images of flight culture from the 1980s most clearly engage with the legacies of modern art. His vivid renderings of non-commercial aircraft capture the spirit of liberation embodied in these gliding and soaring forms that first inspired him as a child growing up in the 1940s and 1950s within the tenement building canyons of inner-city Philadelphia, beneath a highly trafficked flight path. In Adams’ paintings the airplane is both an extension of the artist himself and a vehicle for creativity and expression. Adams take cues from Pop Art but pushes his painting a step further by converting the work into something that extends beyond the style’s typical references to mass culture. Adams personalizes the superficiality of Pop Art, making it reflective of local sensibilities, personalities, and his own aesthetics. In his work, these aerial projectiles become mechanisms for the artist to examine color, line, and form while engaging with modern art history. Yet these are simultaneously representational images that defy genres of landscape, portraiture, still life.
Toward the end of the 1980s and early 90s, the airplane receded into the background in Adams work as the landscape and human figure entered the outer limits of the frame. Yet it would be incorrect to see this reduction in scale of the aircraft figure as a diminishment in meaning. Many of Adams landscape and suburban-scape paintings from the 1990s are dominated by the changing colors and atmospherics of the Western sky, and present scenes of individuals or couples in private residences, as if glimpsed through a window in ways that evoke Edward Hopper’s masterworks on modern isolation and loneliness. Yet, they depart from Hopper in their depiction of vast, dramatic skies with the frequent addition of barely visible scenes of criminality that indicate, as the artist once wrote, “the social fabric of the community is undergoing profound—and often distressing—change.”
This presentation also brings together key selections from the artist’s diverse and wide-ranging engagement with forms of portraiture. His approach to portraiture merges specificity of individuals with universal personae. Over the years, Adams has explored this genre through his rendering of key historical personalities of African-American and African-Canadian history, friends and acquaintances within his Lower Mainland community of Surrey and White Rock, and his own family, especially his wife and two children.
Though Jim Adams has not explicitly dedicated himself to unpacking the colonial elements of the African diaspora, many of his works provide oblique perspectives on the politics of racial representation in Canada today, examined through the artist’s lifelong interest in cultural meta-narratives, especially those drawn from Egyptian and Classical mythologies. Adams use of iconography acknowledges the long history of artistic representation associated with his mythic subjects but goes to great lengths to bring them up to date. In re-envisioning these universalizing stories, Adams tackles contemporary social problems and conditions while returning black figures to the equation, restoring African heritage to the art historical record both in terms of these enduring stories, and in the racial identity of the figures who populate them.
Jim Adams contributions to the art community of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia have extended beyond his creative production. He’s also made a mark as an educator, an advocate for the arts, and a leader in the cultural community of South Surrey.