The Arousal of Kinetic Sensation: Pat Adams at Victoria Munroe
Pat Adams: Then Found at Victoria Munroe Fine Art
November 1, 2017 to January 27, 2018 (extended)
67 East 80th Street #2, between Madison and Park avenues
New York City, victoriamunroefineart.com
A perfect oval, “jewel-tone” and encrusted, is suspended just below the center of Through, (2013) a medium-sized work on paper by the distinguished American painter Pat Adams, presented with nearly twenty of the artist’s richly hued abstract paintings in Then Found at Victoria Munroe. This mysterious, gritty egg is small, held in place by a horizontal mottled sienna band spanning a thick citron haze. Installed in the front gallery, this work and two sibling paintings, Here Occurring (2009) and Drawn, (1997), set a fundamental compositional rhythm for the exhibition. Emphatically symmetrical, these paintings share an ovoid shape placed in the middle of a field of deep space, but through changes in scale, palette and paint application, each picture invites a different apprehension of the same hopeful, transformative prophecy—simultaneously ancient and futuristic.
Adams has been producing beautiful, deeply engaging and keenly relevant work for nearly 70 years. A wealth of literature by renown critics such as Dore Ashton, Barbara Rose, Max Kozloff and Jed Perl has been written about the twenty-five solo shows of her work here in New York City since the mid-1950s and others throughout the country along with innumerable group exhibitions. Proof of Adam’s significance is in abundance in this show.
The central opaque oblong of Here Occurring (2009) painted on a narrow horizontal stretcher over six feet long, is embedded with crushed seashells hovering within a steely violet, pin-striped space highlighted with bright laser-like lines of high-keyed color. Presented in the back gallery, the earliest of the three, Drawn (1997) has a large square format that closely frames a densely textured, burnt sienna oval containing a single light yellow horizontal line flecked with red sand. The light in this painting is tinted dark red, conjuring a dusky Martian sky. An orange-red pool of light fills the bottom of the oval like the pupil of an eye scanning the space below reminiscent of the portentous floating eye-balloon imagery of Odilon Redon.
The works in Then Found span the years 1997 to 2016. This is only a third of the more than six decades Adams has spent building her extensive body of perceptual, non-figurative, mixed media work. Adam’s paintings are evidence of her belief in the powerful and unique exchange between the artist and her individual viewer facilitated by visual expression. She has developed and puts to use her own materials and techniques designed to generate vibrant, yet subtle plays of color, form, light and space with which to enthrall her audience. Raised in the Central Valley of California, she has long been based in Bennington, VT where she taught at Bennington College for 30 years until 1993. She exhibited new paintings every two years at the Zabriskie Gallery, New York from 1956 to 2009 when the gallery closed. This exhibition thus gives New Yorkers a welcome opportunity to see a solo show of Adams’ artwork after a hiatus of seven years. She has also lectured and taught extensively: I was her student when she was a visiting faculty at RISD’s graduate painting program in 1980.
After the intergalactic voyages within the three mystical sister paintings in the show, I found myself drawn to the grounding logic presented in two purely rectilinear compositions, Behold (2004) and Where it Goes (2002). Behold in the front room, is a vertical painting laid out in three columns of perfect squares stacked five high. A warm shifting checkerboard-like interplay of dark sienna and indigo versus corals, pinks and reds balance a single chartreuse square at the bottom left. Adams’ intriguing integration of sand and other types of particles with pigment add texture to her layered applications of color and slow down the reading of her work. The presence of Where it is recedes slightly from its conceptual companion due to its paler shades and thinned applications of paint. Another vertical composition, its right hand column of squares is cropped. There are sets of smaller squares faintly visible with the atmospheric blocks of grey green and rust. The piece is punctuated by a dark, glittering square flanked by a small flat red box abutting the right edge of the painting. I have found my center.
What next? Taking a step back, I realize the works as a whole invite a natural sifting through and pleasurable classification of her pictorial modes. This parallels Adams’ creative process. She wrote in 1996: “The artist presently exercises capabilities that engage a density of formative parameters. There is the intensity of attention; there is the tolerance for the confounding as well as the compounding of that which is discernible; there is the alertness to attraction, which drives the sorting and apprizing through the oceanic character of phenomenality.” Then Found includes an array of other works revealing the range of Adams’ phenomenological investigations. The most recent work in the show, They Say (2016) exemplifies the dense, over-all gestural painted lines she had long used for their “arousal of kinetic sensation.” Some result from Adams’ long held fascination with archetypal, “insistent” geometric configurations, which appear and disappear as they are framed and formed in her irregular shifting fields. Two of these include Long Soon (1996) a small green and red painting using geometry and color to suggest a link between the body and dark matter, and Into The Garden (2003) whose two variant red galaxies are split by a fine “S” curve.
As a backdrop to this partial retrospective, Adams’ exhibition last year at the Bennington Museum, Gatherum of Quiddities, spanned her entire career revealing her unique aesthetic path. Both shows reinforce Adams’ commitment to a painting practice, or “calling” as she would say, that rises above art world trends. Perhaps because of this, a certain invisibility has long been associated with her oeuvre. Hilton Kramer wrote in 1965, “Hermetic in imagery, poetic in temperament, [Adams’] work has not been sufficiently appreciated for its sheer aesthetic quality.” I, for one, don’t think we need any more evidence of the importance and value of the work of Pat Adams.