lifewithdamien interviews> Irish Expressionist Painter Mr.John Adams

Art is about expressing yourself exploring beauty and intellect, for me I have to be absorbed into the process of painting, almost in a state of meditation.

Mr. John Adams has continued to embark upon a personal journey through his work since he began his career in London in the early 80’s. The Wicklow Mans current project involves travelling to Northern India to the village where his father grew up to discover his roots. While spending two months travelling about he feels: ‘It will be a time of reflection, for me to paint and gather enough inspiration, so that I can develop themes for my exhibition coming soon at the Cork School of Music.’

Mr. Adams is best known for his Cork Harbor Series at the Stephen Pearce Gallery. Also his Cork City architecture series held at the Cork Vision Center in 2010. For those unfamiliar with his work he has been developing his artistic expression over the last 30 years. He has painted sets for some of the most prestigious theater and film companies in London, Paris and Spain including The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Barbican Theater, The New Shakespeare Company in Regents Park as well as Pinewood Studios and The Walt Disney Company.

On this bright, Thursday morning of October 11th. I meet with Mr. Adams at his Cork City home in St. Luke’s. We greet with a warm firm hand-shake on the stair-way at the door to his apartment; on entering his open-plan living come dining room, the walls of the room display some of his most recent work unsold at exhibitions namely a vivid painting of the Elysian tower block for which the 2011 exhibition was held.

Mr. Adams was in a melancholy state while scanning over his previous art work hanging on the walls. Taking the focus off himself for a moment, he asked? ‘What do you think I need to do to this tide scene on the beach at Myrtleville, while summing me up as I admired the lighting he captured?’

Asking how long it usually takes him to create a series of paintings? He humorously replied: ‘How long is a piece of string? When I get involved in a series of paintings; I do like to prepare a lot of canvases, I wouldn’t have a set amount of finished paintings in mind, so I put them aside avoiding the risk of getting bogged down. For me painting requires letting my subconscious mind be in a state of meditation, it has to be worthwhile! The first few have to mean something and often get discarded.’

He says that his current work has developed a ‘subtle, socio-political message’ with a narrative that is easy to interpret‘. He gives an example of his previous work relating to what was happening in society during the height of ‘The Celtic-Tiger’. He said that he created a painting of God looking down from heaven disapprovingly at The Pope and the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. He is proud of the response that it generated when it sold at his Judgment Series exhibition. . He said: ‘for me it depicts corruption in political circles and the church.

As we discussed exhibitions that have made a difference to the success of his career he added: ‘I go through periods of unfinished business, with whatever has been going on in my life at the time. I suppose it was the ‘Remain in Light series’ with the focus on Trees exhibition in ’98, held at the Launderette Gallery.’

He relates this to a low point in his life where he felt his state of mind came through strongly in his paintings. He paused for a moment to think of one of his most successful exhibitions to date: ‘It would have to be the 47 paintings I created for the Cork Harbor Series. I could see from his facial expression that he was proud of how many sold at the time.

He believes that he was formerly perceived as a seascape painter, which is why he decided to update his skills by studying landscape and figurative painting, in the Summer of 2011 at the Florence Academy in Italy, he says: ‘I wasn’t happy with my technical skills, you never stop learning. It probably has something to do with the fact that I was thrown out of three art colleges.’ A roguish smile lit up across his face.

Mr. Adams has fond memories of a time when his career was gaining momentum; he had been co-curator of the ‘Cork Art trail’ at The Sirius gallery alongside, John and Suzy Mullane who opened to the public, with a 24 year old Simon Coveney who was guest speaker on the day .

When asked about how successful he’s become John said: ‘I don’t think I have gained any recognition, there are people out there who love my work, I guess! my work has a certain commercial value’. ‘I realize my limitations and have been trying to do more realistic paintings.’

The reason he chose to do the Cork City architecture series was he felt it important to record the preservation of the cities architecture prior to much demolition of old buildings during the Celtic tiger.

His anger towards the ruthless property developers was evident in the tone of his voice as he expressed the view that as far as he’s concerned: ‘these so called professional architects have no respect for the old world architecture of cork city.’

When he spoke about his art education and how difficult it can be to establish oneself he sharply responded mid-question: ‘I don’t have much respect for the art colleges, quite often it’s down to tutors not teaching the students anything, devastating their self-esteem, the students don’t really know what is asked of them.’

‘There are very basic things they need to know! like how to measure and mix paints, the color wheel for learning to create different tones. They’re just not prepared for the art world, Also I found the lectures I’ve dealt with are not qualified to teach students to do their own P.R. once they leave college.’

‘This is probably due to the fact that most art lecturers go straight into a teaching job after a master’s degree, they’re not that organized in my opinion. Administrators of galleries don’t always have the best interests of the artist at heart, some are arrogant and egotistical and rarely give a career developing artist a chance to get themselves out there. This is something that I have been fighting to overcome for many years.’

His most high profile exhibition to date, was when President Higgins whom was T.D. at the time, was invited to an exhibition at his residency studio at the Back-Water Studios in Cork Where he gave a painting to the former arts minister, his broken Leinster accent becomes more prominent as he threw back his head with a hearty laugh at my question saying: ‘We were buttering up the politicians.’ he said that he was interviewed by RTE’s Derrick Davis the same day, it all added to the excitement!

He continues to state that: ‘President Higgins is one of the few politicians who has any idea of highbrow culture. The media do not fulfill their role of promoting heritage arts, it is truly lacking in Ireland, which frustrates me! Certainly any of the arts ministers over the years did little for our reputation.’

He looked slightly demystified when asked had he a favorite painting and why?

He says: ‘I have done many different styles and it would be impossible for me to narrow it down to just one painting. I think.. Maybe one of my abstracts ‘Deep blue’ which I sold to well-known Cork Businessman, David O’ Reilly. I don’t feel any of my paintings would be my favorite per-say; ‘Art is about expressing yourself, exploring beauty and intellect. For me I have to be absorbed into the process of painting almost in a state of Meditation’

The people he feels have encouraged him are: ‘his deceased friend, Charlie Hennessy who had been a great help with his public relations, in establishing his reputation on the Cork art scene. His father and Norah Walsh were also very good to me, they gave me the confidence to believe in the quality of my work. It was a wonderful start.’

When asked what artists he admires, he said: ‘Francis Bacon would have to be somebody I can relate to. I have tried to paint like him; my paintings are definitely influenced by Francis Bacon, a loose expressionistic style. ‘Like him, I love to make a mess’. He described a situation at Pinehurst studios where his ‘love of making a mess’ in studio resulted in paint dripping through the ceiling going down on another artists work during an exhibition.

He admires the work of the Lavitt Gallery and how it has given career developing artists a chance to make a name for themselves. Although he wishes that Cork city could become a much richer cultural experience for the art viewing public. He hopes that one day his work will be taken seriously nationally, smiling as he says: ‘This is when the fun will start. It’s about time I can show people I can paint, pushing my technical skills. He feels his real success is a long way off, although he acknowledges his notoriety being due to his art critic stance and views on politics.


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