Friday, December 11, 2009

Virginia via Idaho via New York City

Christmas Badge

My husband and I found him in hound-and-horse country — Middleburg, Virginia — and it was love at first sight. Well, to be more precise, we found first his paintings, at a solo show at Susan Byrne Gallery on the main drag. After that, he came to lunch and became the artist I talk up every chance I get.

He is Steve Adams, and his paintings are magnificent

Steve was born in Moscow, Idaho, the year before I said hello to the world, which means he's older than 50 but a long way from Medicare; he grew up in Virginia. He studied art history and graphic design for two years at Virginia Commonwealth University and then in 1972 headed to the only city that counted in the art world then: New York. There, he attended Parsons School of Design, in Greenwich Village, and had the fortune to count among his teachers Henry Wolf, Walter Allner (Bauhaus), and Ken Zapkus. He also studied photography independently under Ken Beckles. No slouches, these!

Steve's first business in the "real" world, which he ran out of a warehouse cum studio cum home, was making custom wood stretchers for painters earning a name for themselves and wood portfolios for the fashion photography industry. He also was a set designer and created painted canvas backdrops for such high-fashion photographers as Richard Avedon, Francesco Scavullo, Rebecca Blake, Irving Penn, and Robert Maplethorpe. In other words, he worked for the best of the best. He also was a drummer in a punk band called "The Hittites", as well as an actor and art director for filmmaker John Ohannesian. It was some life Steve had! (If you ever have the opportunity to spend a few minutes with Steve, be sure to ask him about Andy Warhol and dumpster diving.)

My husband celebrated our anniversary the fall of the year we saw Steve's work by buying me one of the paintings in the Middleburg show, which Steve made after 9/11 but had not titled (at left). A huge (60"x54") abstract, with blues the color of the ocean and lengthy vertical slashes of red, this painting, it soon became obvious, would not be coming back with us in our yellow two-seater, and I was worried, just a little, that the painting would not fit where we envisioned it hanging.

No problem, Susan assured us. Steve will deliver it personally.

Not only did Steve deliver the painting (it turned out he lives in McLean, Virginia, just a short distance from our home), he brought with him the tools and materials to hang it — the space turned out to be perfect. We provided lunch, which lasted into the late afternoon, and in turn were treated to an extraordinary conversation about art, artists, and the making and selling and showing and buying of art. All this turned into a friendship, visits to his light-filled studio and home, wherein hangs an amazing collection of hand-carved Hopi katchinas or katsinas, and the purchase from Steve several years later of another large painting, "Atlantis" (54"x60"), below, also a beauty.

A self-described post-modernist abstract painter and colorist, Steve's come a long way as a painter since the 1970s, when his work was geometric, tight within the confines of the canvas, and highly stylized.

He has developed and continues to refine a unique and innovative application of color-and-drawing on canvas that requires up to a year to complete because of the time needed for layers of oils to dry. Once the paint is dry, Steve selectively exposes it, layer by layer, until he reaches what he calls "the soul of the painting". Subsequently, he adds gloss or shine by hand-polishing the surface with water. The effect Steve achieves with this technique is a luminous, multi-layered, color-saturated painting that looks like glass or shiny new linoleum, smooth and soft to the touch but durable—and breath-taking to behold.

Below, top, "Hermes", 2009, 52"x52". Below, bottom, "Marathon", 2009, 52"x72".

One of eight finalists in this year's Fifth Annual Bethesda (Maryland) Painting Awards, Steve showed most recently at the Fraser Gallery (7700 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda). (Click here and scroll down to the item titled "Bethesda Painting Awards".) In a critique of the show featuring the winners' and finalists' work, reviewer Kevin Mellema of the Falls Church New-Press, wrote, "One of the most fascinating artists here is Steven Adams. Adams works with layered paints sanded to a glass-smooth surface revealing the various colored layers of paint." In contrast to the "eye candy" created by two other much younger artists in the show who have happened, on their own, onto a somewhat similar approach, the reviewer added, "Steven Adams takes the whole ball of wax, adds a baked, reticulated (cracked) paint twist and spits it out as a quiet, mature and highly contemplative style that harbors a natural organic visual feel. It's reminiscent of leaf imprints, complete with veins and surface texture."

Steve's work is in Saatchi Gallery online (click here); was featured in a beautifully presented article in the July 2007 issue of Elan magazine*; and exhibited in 2007 in "Strictly Painting", curated by Kristen Hileman of the Hirshhorn Museum and mounted at the McLean Project for the Arts, in McLean, Virginia. Representation at galleries around the country and abroad is in the works.

Above, "Xerxes", 2009, 48"x48".

Steve's a terrific painter, a loyal friend, a fascinating character. And he's just waiting to be discovered!

Please Note: All images are provided courtesy of the artist. Copyright © Steven D. Adams. All Rights Reserved. Under no circumstances may any of these images be photocopied and used without Steve's express written permission. Steve may be contacted at

* Unfortunately, Elan's online archives do not go back to 2007, so I cannot link to the article.

Steve's Website, Steve Adams Studio, is here.

You can learn more about Steve, such as his work doing gorgeous Venetian wall finishes, by viewing his public LinkedIn profile.

At High Calling Blogs, we're celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas with 12 Days of Community by highlighting the blog(s) or Website(s) of people other than ourselves or people we think you should know about. As our friend Glynn says, this is something we should be doing anyway, all the other 353 days of the year. This is the fifth essay to appear under the 12 Days of Community badge. The others are:


L.L. Barkat said...

I love that he hand delivered (and installed!) it. :)

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