Friday, March 26, 2021

A Brief Brush with Somerville painter Adam Adkison


I was fortunate to catch up with Somerville painter Adam Adkison. Originally from the hinterlands of Wyoming --he has found a home in our rich creative hub...

From his website:

Adam Adkison has been drawing and painting for as long as he can remember. One of his first memories was as a 7 year old, digging through crayons or oil pastels from large cabinet drawers at the front of the class, breathing in the heady scent of wax.

Raised in a coal mining town in Wyoming, Adam grew up surrounded the austere beauty of the area. Inspirational places like Adobetown, Castle Rock, and Boar’s Tusk were all within a short distance.

Adam’s work has been called a mixture of realism and impressionism. He tends to steer his work away from feeling like a photograph, preferring to keep brushstrokes visible. He is attracted towards scenes of quiet beauty, finding peace and comfort in them. He works from real life as much as possible, finding that it gives the work more depth and vibrancy.

You were raised in a coal mining town in Wyoming. Now, you are an artist living in Somerville. How has the city been for your creative life?

Coming from a state where there’s about 10 people per square mile to one of the most densely populated cities in the country was a bit of a shock, as you can imagine. It’s been nothing but good here though-- with the Somerville Arts Council, with Open Studios, with Mass Art, the Academy of Realist Art, so many wonderful opportunities to learn and meet some great people.

For me, one of the best events for art has been the Cape Ann Plein Air competition, held every October, although last year was virtual due to the pandemic, of course. But, there’s an event called the quick draw where you get two hours to paint. You pick your spot in a designated location, and with a hundred or so of your new best friends, you summon all your skills and paint your little heart out. Some of the best plein air artists in the region are there, and it’s a delight to be around them while they create these beautiful paintings.

You have been described as both a realist and an impressionist painter. Impressionism is all about light and its transience. How does this play out in your work?

Well, I could get into the technical jargon, talking about lost and found edges and compositional flow, but in the end it’s how I want the viewer to experience the painting. I’m not interested in painting every leaf on the tree, that sounds tedious and dreadfully dull. My goal with a painting is to let the eye move around the canvas in a harmonious way, giving areas of rest for the eye, then areas of rich color and detail to savor. That’s my goal anyway.

You are also a realist painter. How do you define that? Do you ever veer to abstraction?

So, it’s interesting you ask that. I see every painting I do as an abstract painting at its core, because what is abstract work other than large shapes of color? There’s a wonderful article online about the painter Mondrian, where he paints a tree relatively realistic-- early on. As he progresses in his career he breaks it down into simpler and simpler shapes.

When I start a painting that’s what I see, are the large shapes of my subject. The barn isn’t windows, doors and a weathervane, just a red block to start. After I get the blueprint down then the details come in.

What do your subjects tend to be?

It really depends on the season. From spring to fall I like to be outdoors. The Arboretum offers an endless supply of inspiration for me, so many hidden spots. I love older architecture, something this area is rich in. Figurative and portrait work is another area I keep returning to. The human face is a wonderful challenge, our brain can unconsciously tell if a portrait looks like the person or not.

In the winter I turn to still life, antiques, flowers, pottery, fruit, self portraits, anything I can work from real life. That’s the thing about being an artist, you get to spend hours studying cool things.

Where did you train? Any major influences to speak of?

While getting my accounting degree I took every art course I could. Drawing, painting, pastel, whatever was offered. When I moved out here I started taking workshops and classes. The amazing watercolorist Wendy Artin (whose show just ended at the Gurari gallery) was an excellent teacher and I’m constantly inspired by her work.

Going through the MFA it’s hard not to be inspired by the Sargents, the Monets, the beautiful Rembrandt paintings we have here. There is one painting at the Harvard art museum of Rembrant’s, an old man, that is so rich in character and emotion I get speechless thinking about it, there are no words.

One of your paintings I noticed was a painting of Central Square, Cambridge. It seemed like a dreamscape--a misty memory. How do you achieve this affect?

I really wanted to give that rainy, misty day feel and watercolors are perfectly suited for this type of painting. Wetting the canvas, letting the color disperse, it’s a bit up to the canvas what happens, but that’s the magic of it and where the fun is, really.

How has the Pandemic affected you and your work?

Good question. Obviously I haven’t done as much work outdoors. I’d say there’s been more introspection, my paintings have been a little quieter, a little calmer. There’s been some teaching gigs that have fallen through. I was supposed to be over in Morocco next month teaching a 9 day watercolor course which of course didn’t happen. But it is what it is, grateful for the vaccines and to everyone who wear masks and social distance to keep others safe, along with the front line workers.

What is in the works now?

Getting ready for more outdoor painting! Priming canvases, making sure all my gear is in check. I went out for the first time last week, and it was embarrassing how rusty I was, so getting everything running smoothly again is the key right now.