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CLINTON ADAMS

by Andy Brumer

"Building Forms II," watercolor,
11 x 18", 1948.

 

 

 

"House Moving (L.A. Freeway
Construction)," lithograph,
8 1/4 x 13", 1949.

(Tobey C. Moss Gallery, West Hollywood) The Los Angeles fine arts community during the 1940’s and ‘50s was well acquainted with Clinton Adams’ oil paintings, egg temperas and watercolors. Born in Glendale in 1918, Adams’ importance to L.A.’s burgeoning cultural scene increased significantly in 1948, when he was introduced to the lithographic process by master printer Lynton R. Kistler. In 1960 he and June Wayne founded the Tamarind Lithography Workshop (in Los Angeles), with the intention of training fine art printers in lithography and to invite renowned artists to explore the medium. Tamarind relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1970, where Adams became a professor and dean at the University of New Mexico, and, eventually, Tamarind’s director. Adams presently lives in Albuquerque, where he continues to paint, work at printmaking and write. Whereas a concurrent exhibition at the Long Beach Museum of Art focuses exclusively on Adams’ lithographs, this show concentrates on his paintings, watercolors and drawings. All told, the exhibition highlights work created over the course of six decades.

A clean, gentle and poetic sense of architectonic space and structure informs Adams’ work. Clearly the artist from his earliest years felt confident with the ideas of abstraction and linear composition that, in part, defined early and mid-century modernism both in America and Europe. His 1948 watercolor, Building Forms II, for example, integrates with almost childlike innocence the architectural impressions of a roof, window, ladder and wall into a rhythmically simple composition that is at once lively and staid. In this and similar pieces the viewer viscerally experiences, more than intellectually analyzes, the sense of openness, freshness, and optimism so linked with the myth and mystique of Southern California living at that time.

Adams proves as much a realist as an idealist, however, in another work, a charming, though somewhat disturbing 1949 lithograph titled House Moving (L.A. Freeway Construction). The print depicts several houses (rendered with a Picasso-like line) raised onto wooden skids and ready for relocation. The scene implies the home-owners’ impending disorientation and the host of other social issues inseparably associated with any urban change that causes displacement. Adams, however, eschews political commentary, and instead (in somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion) co-ops and explores the formal elements of angles, mass, shading and lines the the image of these destabilized houses present.

Two remarkable series involving windows express Adams’ technical and emotional virtuosity. The 1953 lithograph Second Hand Store II places the viewer squarely in front of a store’s window looking in at the sharply-edged silhouettes of no-longer-wanted tables, lamps, mirrors and other household objects. Adams brilliantly organizes the space of this picture through the cubistic grid of the store’s window pane, orchestrating as he does a masterful dance of flatness and depth in keys of shadows and light. In addition, the lithograph’s grainy “cinematic” texture offers an ironic and eerily still-life-like “tribute” to nearby Hollywood’s culture of insatiably flickering motion.

"Second Hand Store II,"
lithograph, 7 3/4 x 14 3/8", 1953.

 

"Window Series VII,"
lithograph, 13 x 9 3/8", 1960.


Adams’ Window Series lithographs drawn on stone at Tamarind in 1960, replace the recognizable images of the Second Hand Store works with highly spiritualized and abstract shapes, colors and forms. As in the paintings of Mark Rothko and Arthur Dove, Adams’ images in this series suggest the timeless ambiguities of the human soul. Not surprisingly, then, any and all references to city life dissolve or give way in these works to a higher calling or goal.