It’s a tight-rope that the artist walks, says Albert Adams, as he tries to maintain a balance between the emotions which direct his creative urge and the objectivity needed to control the development of a work of art. In his exhibition of drawings at Gallery International, Adams successfully performs this feat with confidence and ability.
His subject matter falls broadly into two categories – men and animals. But since he chooses to stress certain general rather than specific characteristics, his subjects appear to represent far more than meets the eye.
At Regent’s Park Zoo near his home in London, he closely observed the behaviour of caged animals. Later, drawing in his studio, Adams discovered that exploratory lines were beginning to resemble aspects of zoo animals. He pursued this direction realizing that the dog image provided a most appropriate vehicle to carry the content of his work.
A strong sense of alienation comes across from these most disturbing studies – particularly with the dogs and hyenas. For these animals removed from their natural environment, escape seems as impossible as adaptation. Confined in narrow alleys or cornered in dark empty rooms, frustrated, alone and desperate, they turn inwards on themselves or aggressively outwards to the world. Twisting, leaping, running – there is no rest for these homeless creatures.
A more refined torture is implied in two other disquieting images depicting dogs that seem only distantly related to their snapping, snarling cousins. Sleek, well-fed and cared for, they appear alert and stable – but their heads are muffled in canvas or leather masks which not only inhibit their natural instincts, but also suggest a selective filtering of outside information to the animals senses.
Figure studies represent another point of view. These are treated in a more abstract manner, some with flat vertically striped areas suggesting a suit front. The figures are headless – obliterated by some explosive force (from within?), replaced-by a puff of smoke, or cancelled out with violent gestural marks.
Adams uses a graphite stick to achieve a range of tones from deepest black to a luminous white, Whether rubbed into solid satiny masses, smudged to blur areas, or used sharp-edged to produce aggressive gestural lines, the graphite sensitively reflects the artist’s ruling emotions, while control is evident in the distribution of tonal areas on the surface.
Like Francis Bacon with whom Adams has an affinity, tensions are set up between the implicitly violent images and the sensitivity of media handling.
In the context of art in our time and place, this is probably the most relevant show to have been mounted by a South African-born artist in recent years. Albert Adams has done his job well.
18 August 1980