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March 15 - April 20, 2003 at The Sandbox, Venice

by Diane Calder

Our knowledge is like sweat, or fumes; it's a function of the organism, inseparable from existence and has nothing whatever to do with Truth.
--Andrei Tarkovsky

Obliquely playing off Tarkovsky’s “sweat, or fumes,” Lisa Adams expels knowledge with alternative choices of body fluids. Tears flood the painting Streaming. Her mask-like profile of a figure with a protruding Pinocchio nose “spits out” its confessional spray: I hate it when I lie to myself. Another personal illustration of self-knowledge, the intriguing Rejection Promotes Simplicity also examines the subject of a failed relationship. Much of the pull of Adam’s quirky work lies in the sweet vulnerability trapped within her hard won lucidity.

Clues to Adams' modus operandi come with the understanding that she is a huge fan of primary experience. The artist credits Tarkovsky, along with filmmakers Werner Hertzog and Tom Tukleir and her psychotherapist, Dr. Ed Wortz, when asked to name people who have influenced her. Additional evidence validating the importance of her goal of “living in the moment” emerges when one examines the values Adams seeks to convey to students in a “how to” book about painting entitled FM *. That collaborative publication features teaching assignments Adams constructed at the Santa Monica College of Design, Art and Architecture. While revealing how she builds a life as a painter for herself, Adams leads students towards consciously tracking their perceptions and examining issues such as the subjectivity of beauty. She advises them to lovingly touch the persistent, recurring images that emerge in their work and to give themselves permission to express any and all aspects of their person. Along with her guidance comes the warning: “Your honesty will create a certain look to the work, kind of crazy.”

“I hate it when I lie to myself," 2002, oil
and spray paint on canvas, 18 x 18".

“WOOW," 2002, oil and spray
paint on canvas, 18 x 16".

“RSVP," 2002, oil and spray
paint on canvas, 12 x 15".

“L.A.," 2002, oil and spray
paint on canvas, 18 x 18".

Adams’ own kind of crazy look is underscored by her partiality for perky palettes and globular forms commonly seen in 99¢ store merchandise or elementary school murals. The artist’s tendency towards the hokey is compounded by her choice of isolated imagery and modest formats. Some paintings in this show are as small as 8” by 8”. Several images are cropped, drawing the viewer in for a closer look and assigning the responsibility for imagining what lies beyond the borders or within the next morph. There is the evocation of video close-ups, especially Japanese anime, with a focus on the simple object and graspable form that has been selected from above all others. The exclusion of any frames around the pictures contributes to Adams’ ability to use each singular, specific image like a word that can be grouped with others to form phrases with more complex meanings.

The wacky, flat imagery is brushed on in alkyd, light oil paint, over wood panels coated with eight layers of gesso, smoothed and sanded to a glassy surface. Accented areas of pattern and text are spray-painted. Adams works with a computer technician to design stencils for the printed words that have become increasingly important elements in her work since her collaboration with poet Martha Ronk on the public art project that enlivens the West Valley Branch Library in Reseda. Adams’ interest in concrete poetry has extended her habit of favoring symmetry to the occasional use of palindromes (words, phrases or numbers that read the same forward and backward). The coincidental duplicity of the artist’s initials with those of her hometown is played like a designer signature on the painting L.A.

Adams has been the recipient of a Fulbright award to Slovenia as well as artist-in-residency grants to Costa Rica, Japan and Finland. She credits the development of her powers of observation, willingness to take chances and sense of trust in her own resources to her isolation in foreign environments where she had few language skills at her command. Since her imagery does not easily translate into any universal language or symbolism, sticking a label like kagamimochi on what could be a mound of rice topped with bitter orange won’t get you far. Like the cool, multi-petaled flower that hovers over a Nordic whirlpool, Adams’ work courts questions from all sides, disabling conventional narrative expectations.