(SA National Gallery leaflet, 2002)
Albert Adams was introduced to Expressionism at an early stage in his career through the work of Irma Stern. And the Expressionist influence in his art is palpable: colour and form are highly expressive; the paintings themselves read as an “outburst of emotion”; diagonals are thrusting and violent; the treatment of space, with its restrictive and constrictive qualities, becomes an active component in heightening tension and a feeling of unease, But, whereas, the German Expressionists were often inspired by the exotic, Albert Adams is passionate about depicting the world he sees around him. This points to another important influence, also from the Weimar period in Germany, namely the art of the Neue Sachlichkeit (the New Objectivity). It is also apparent that Albert Adams responded to certain contemporary influences, when he settled in London in the 1960s, most notably Francis Bacon but also the work of the American expatriate living in London, Ron Kitaj. But all of these influences have been absorbed into an art which is original and which speaks with a very clear voice. To reiterate, Albert Adams depicts what he sees around him, honing in, particularly, on the social condition. For example, on view in this exhibition are depictions of the Cape Minstrels; there is a series of the homeless living on the streets; the “Incarceration” series was inspired by a visit to Robben Island; and the series “Baggage” refers specifically to the baggage that all South Africans carry into the new South Africa. In a very real sense, Albert Adams has always continued to paint South Africa, His formative years in an apartheid society have left an indelible mark, inspiring the work of an artist who is committed and who possesses a fearless vision.
Ernst van Buynder, President MuHKA Antwerp
I met Albert Adams for the first time in his present studio in the heart of London. I got to know him through the artist Veerle Rooms, who had worked with him in a residential graphic studio in South Africa, “BAGGAGE” was the theme round which in 2002 a number of top artists from Africa & America, in a isolated place in Caversham, in South Africa produced graphic works. Albert Adams created on paper, a vision of a man who carried an ape on his shoulders moving precariously along a tight rope. In his text for the catalogue the artist says, “Can baggage be some thing we cling to, unable to let go, or unwilling to discharge? Is our baggage at once our glory and our damnation?”
Baggage must be considered here both literally and figuratively. Albert Adams created for himself of a long exile in Europe, here he had diverse artistic experiences and impressions, but the pain of his motherland remained part of him. The artist who walks on the hanging tightrope is a lovely metaphor of his art, and he told me in London that the “ape” is a memory of a toy ape which he treasured as a child, and was a great comfort to him. He often painted animals such as dogs and hyenas, sometimes engaged in noisy combat. Our artist therefore often visits the Regent’s Park Zoo in London. I think of “The Cyclist” where the heads are not visible, and also “Celebration” where always joy and sorrow are close. Critics have pointed out the definite influence of Kokoschka, in the style of his paintings. Personally I think that the influence of England itself, such as Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, and the London school were quite strong.
Albert Adams, both spiritually and artistically and also physically has travelled a long journey, and we wish him further success in his career.
Curator of Prints & Drawings
Iziko SA National Gallery, Cape Town
On Wednesday, 8th October 1947, the Cape Argus newspaper printed an article with the headline “Eager Students at Art Classes for Coloured”, the article went on to list the students in the photograph which accompanied it.
Of one it said, “near to him worked a bright eyed school boy, Albert Adams, who comes all the way from Athlone for the classes. He has drawn ever since he can remember.” Albert was sixteen years old at the time. In the intervening fifty odd years since then, his work has been seen all over the world, as an internationally respected artist, from Yugoslavia, Belgium, Germany, Sao Paulo Brazil, & the USA, and is in numerous collections worldwide.
Albeit Adams, true to his original concept, paints & draws “what I see around me” and all the earlier influences, of Kokoshka, and the German Expressionists of the Neuer Sachlichkiet (the New Objectivity) movement, have been absorbed into an art which is original and which speaks with a very clear voice. To reiterate, Albert paints what he sees around him, honing in particularly on the social condition.
His recent graphic work & paintings depict the Cape Minstrels, the Incarceration series of etchings was inspired by a recent visit to Robben Island.
Albert Adams has always continued to paint South Africa. His formative years in an apartheid society have left an indelible mark, inspiring the work of an artist who is committed, and who possesses a fearless vision.
Adams’s delicate balance
Mail and Guardian May 15 2009
A triptych of panels painted by the late expressionist Albert Adams in 1959 has been called one of the most important works by a black South African artist of the 20th century — and is one of the central pieces in the retrospective of his work at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. more
Mail and Guardian May 15 2009
Jeremy Kuper speaks to Edward Glennon, life partner of the later Albert Adams here.
Adams: A pathfinder to the soul of art
If there is any justice in the extravagant amounts of money that the rich spend on some artworks – like 57 million USD on a work from 1982 by Jean Michel Basquiat at last week’s Christie’s auction in New York – one can only wonder at the worth of this gripping exhibition,
In an era where some much art has promised its soul to the art-market (even artists fresh out of art-school think that artistic merit is measured in monetary worth), the late Adams is a leading example of how the soul blossoms in the creative process.
The fact that Adam’s art, who died in 2007 at the age of 77, hasn’t become a big-ticket item (like Robert Hodgins and Stanley Pinker amoung others) on auction, possibly says more about the unsettling emotional power of his work than its artistic merit.
Because Adams was a typical artist’s artist: his visual understanding followed the currents of his time (it is for example enriching to draw the parallels between this body work and artists like Bacon and Auerbach, the Germans of the era) but with more of a moral leaning. In addition he continually honed and developed his technique and media, even though line and gesture was his instrument.
Faithful to the classical expressionistic maxims of art as an expression of social consciousness, each artwork is almost a moral question.
Again and again, over the more than decades that this retrospective covers, the curators Marilyn Martin and Joe Dolby revisit the same themes, It is almost exclusively the ‘human condition’, anxious and unsure, that he addressed through his work. Portraits (self-portraits that record his development over the years) place the person, the character fully in the foreground. In other instances, apes and the circus serve as the metaphors,
The series and depictions relating to the Cape Minstrels, like the Celebration Series, embodies the social irony of a festival of atrocities as a relentless presence depicted in flamboyant costume, Excellent paintings. (But do the art auctions have the nerves for this?)
It is almost as if the viewer can read the passion in Adams’ work – feel the force of his argument and the uncertainty of discontent in the painterly marks The viewer is simultaneously aware of his careful composition and mastery of many mediums – paint, charcoal or etching – through his self-assured mark making.
In 1982, he produced The Captive, a clever composition where the paradoxes of authority, bureaucracy and violence are depicted This was the same year that the 22 year old Basquiat, who died 6 years later, painted his ‘wild’ work that was sold for an absurd price.
For us people of the Cape, this retrospective of Adams work, is an unmissable chance to experience a glimpse at the soul of art.