On the day I visited the collection of Emily Davis Adams’ paintings at CB1 Gallery, fierce rain and thunderstorms were slicing through Los Angeles. The sky, its reflection in glass and metal, and the city’s blacktops, were gray-washed in a haze that diffused light and color. Chilled and dripping, I found my way down the long corridor into the gallery where Adam’s paintings waited safely for whomever would come out of the flooded, wind whipped streets, to notice them. Except for the gallery rep, I was alone. Strange. Since David Pagel and his class were expected to meet here. I didn’t mind having the entire space to myself. And the friendly rep, surprised by my visit due to the weather, commented on my determination. I laughed politely and replaced the chill in my bones with the delusion that everything there was meant for me.
Incandescent domes hallowed each painting, illuminating the pieces like miniature theaters in surround. Their reductive color could have been scooped up and saved from outside before the storm smudged everything there. At first glance, the oils on canvas over panel appeared to me to ride the coat tails of chromatic abstraction but on a much smaller scale. They were minimal, soft-edged and possibly something seen before.
“Pay attention” I told myself and stepped in closer. Adam’s hues are not flat, but shift illusionistically with subtle tints and shades of themselves. With closer observation I see a ripple, a dimple, a fold unfolded and it’s understood that these are not abstractions from the Greenberg sense of modern art, but observations in light and color; Light and color- which are really one in the same, saturating our environment. If only we notice, even when drowned on days like this or upstaged by concrete cities. Adams’ paintings are realism in the raw sense when vision in itself is fascinating. I know this sort of concentration when an artist stops thinking and moves into a realm of reaction to seeing. When this happens, what one sees is intensified. More is there than what we previously noticed. Mostly, we tend to stomp through life not seeing much of anything.
Reproductions do not do the work justice. One must see, first hand, how Adams lets go of the noise, edits the unnecessary and pays attention to what is here for our indulgences if only we pay attention. These are not landscapes as their horizontal configurations would suggest, leading on-lookers into that compartment. Adams’ process to make these layouts is to use construction papers as her models, posed under controlled bulbs in her Brooklyn studio. This contradicts plein air landscape study where artists work on-site from observation. These are not that kind of observation. Adams’ method reminded me more of a Baroque practice where artists set up fabricated small landscapes within their studios for study. Viewers are fooled by the broccoli and cauliflower trees, believing the pictures are observations in exterior nature. Something similar has happened with Adams’ paintings but we do not see the stylized representation of trees or grasses. Instead, we see the illusion of a paper crease, not a landscape. I am in the fabricated blur that Adams has staged for me. And I am onto her, but that does not disappoint me like the reveal behind a magician’s trick. Instead, the awareness reminds me to keep my senses honed. What we see may not be what we think we see.
Adams’ has me thinking of color: translucent crimson, ceruleum blue….My heart-rate slows.
Later, I came to consider how linkages among people reside in the refractions that make up our world. While social practices and political correctness ride their waves in and out of cultural exchanges, our differences (political, social, ethnic, gender, sexual, generational, physical and so on) are secondary to our shared dependency on light and color- whether we notice or not. This makes painting indefinitely significant.
And then, my meditation was interrupted when time slapped my forehead. How many minutes had passed? I checked the clock on my cell phone. David and his students were still absent. I sent a text to a classmate and learned that the schedule shifted. I didn’t get the e-mail update since I audited the class unofficially. I’d have to catch up to the group or miss discussion. Still, I liked not sharing the space and took another unobstructed glance through the gallery before scooping up my soggy umbrella and hurrying down the hall to the front of the building. I paused on the cool door handle, took in a deep breath of the warm interior air, held it momentarily and then pushed into the thick, wet wind outside. Slosh and sharp updrafts dulled my sight again, returning everything to black, white and gray.