James Adelman, artist in residence at Main Street Arts during the month of January 2020, is working in one of our two studio spaces on our second floor. We asked James some questions about his work and studio practice:
Q: How would you describe your work?
Pretty traditional by most standards. I find 2-dimensions wholly adequate to convey infinite possibilities, so primarily I make oil paintings and charcoal drawings.
I am fascinated with contradictory notions and emotions felt simultaneously. The intersections and parallels of futility and persistence, despair and hope, loneliness and contentment.
Many are representational featuring ambiguous subjects with ephemeral, atmospheric qualities. They could read like stills from a movie reel, telling a nonlinear story. Sometimes haunting, but with stillness and quietude as well.
Q: What is your process for creating a work of art?
Often my work begins with a meditation or visualization exercise, followed by small sketches. I try to stay in a trance state and think as little as possible for as long as possible.
The sketches are translated into drawings, staged photographs, or paintings. Any of these may serve as the basis of further drawings, photos, or paintings. Sketches become photos become drawings that inform more photos that become paintings. Like a cycle.
The idea or visual is not as critical to me as maintaining the mood or emotion throughout the process. I want work imbued with emotional resonance and pictures which solicit emotive response and elude analysis.
Q: What are your goals for this residency?
I was nominated to apply for a Pollock-Krasner Foundation photography grant, so one project will be developing that portfolio. But also paintings and drawings.
I have a mountain of ideas, visuals, and references built up from the Summer which I just haven’t had psychic space to reflect on or organize. Main Street Arts seems like the right place to regain that space and dive in and see some of the longstanding projects advance.
Q: How do you promote your artwork?
I don’t really! Or at least I’m terrible at it. I carry forward announcements for events etc for the sake of the venues, but most opportunities and supporters come to me through friends. It all comes back to friends. We are a tribal species.
Q: Who are some of your favorite artists and inspirations?
Not just visual artists. Bruce Lee, David Lynch, Mr. Rogers, Gerhard Richter, Friends, Mark Tansey, Lisa Yuskavage, Marilyn Minter, Inka Essenhigh, Stanley Kubrick, Emily Evelleth, Edward Hopper, Vilhelm Hammershoi, James Casebere, Amy Bennet, George Tooker, Francis Bacon, Whistler, Kurt Cobain,… the list goes on and perpetually evolves, of course.
Q: What is the most useful tool in your studio?
Imagination! Then eye, mind, and hand. After that I think I use a palette knife most. Also I’m a big fan of homemade painting carts and how they evolve organically. Sort of a hobby.
Q: Do you collect artwork? Tell us about your collection.
Yes when I’m able, but only modestly scaled work. I have about 20 pieces, most came from friends as gifts or trades. Sometimes residents leave work out of gratitude, which is always humbling and amazing. There’s an amazing Alex Kanevsky I won in a raffle I could never have afforded it otherwise. I also got a Dik Liu at a Christmas benefit.
Q: What was your experience like at art school?
I think this quote from Mark Twain about sums it up: “I’m glad I did it, partly because it was well worth it, but mostly because I shall never have to do it again”
Q: Who are your strongest influences and why?
Ha, this will be a long one… Inka Essenhigh had a profound impact on me and my work. I admired her a lot then unbelievably she taught a class while I was in grad school. Later I was her teaching assistant for the same class: ‘Painting from Imagination’. It rocked my world. It is crazy that I know her.
Mark Tansey must be the most influential artist for me though. I was his studio assistant for several years and a huge fan long before. He employs one assistant at a time and there is a mentorship component, which he considers a long standing painting tradition.
He worked for Helen Frankenthaler around the same age and was very open with techniques, materials, and process with me.
It was incredible meeting an artist I’ve studied and for years and emulated for a time. Being able to ask about pictures in the book and told almost exactly how they were made, plus insights and revelations surrounding them at length. I got to see new work develop stage by stage. It is hard for that not to permeate the subconscious, especially if your willing.
I traveled to Rhode Island 3-4 days at a time, staying in a guest house over the garage. He has a Tribeca studio, but Rhode Island was the primary workplace. We’d have dinner each night and talk art, philosophy, politics etc for hours.
It was amazing to have access to such a powerful intellect, especially in an ongoing format like that. The conversations could carry on to great depths as we reconvened consecutive nights and weeks.
Challenging at times too though, sometimes I had to read whole books just to participate. Often his wife Jean, who I regard as highly and deserves all credit for the food, would join us. They are an extraordinarily generous family in all regards.
Q: What’s next for you?
Driving to Utah to see my brother’s brand new baby! Then not sure. Probably driving aimlessly to places I’ve never seen, exploring. Taking advantage of having remote work and a Saab. I know I’ll be back in Woodstock again in May.