Dallas, Texas, January 2, 1952
Rice University, Houston, B.F.A., 1978
Rice University, Houston, B.A., 1977
One and Two Person Exhibitions
Waterstone Gallery, “Fragility, Imperfection, and Resilience”, Portland, Oregon, November 2013
Gremillion & Co. Fine Art, Inc., “The Serpent in the Golden Rectangle”, Dallas, Texas, January, 2013
Springbox Gallery, “The Serpent in the Golden Rectangle”, Portland, Oregon, June, 2012
Gremillion & Co. Fine Art, Inc. Houston, Texas, February 2011
(several Adams pieces included in Fernando Casas’ one-man show, Nature on the Very Verge)
Springbox Gallery, Portland, Oregon, July, 2009
Penny Cerling Etching Studio, Houston, March, 1993
Taylor Contemporanea Fine Arts, Hot Springs, Arkansas, October, 1992
Toni Jones Gallery, Houston, November- December, 1987
Art League of Houston, (two-person show with Carolyn Florek), 1987
Toni Jones Gallery, (two-person exhibition with Fernando Casas), Houston, 1980
Rice University, Department of Fine Arts, Houston, 1973
Waterstone Gallery, “A Sense of Place”, Portland, Oregon, May, 2019
20th Annual Sitka Art Invitational, Portland, Oregon, November 2-3, 2013
Waterstone Gallery, “What’s Next”, Group Show, Portland, Oregon, February, 2013
Various group exhibitions with gallery artists, Springbox Gallery, Portland, Oregon, 2007-2012
Cascade AIDS Project Art Event, Portland, Oregon, April 2011
Gremillion & Co. Fine Art, Inc., Dallas, Texas, September 2010
“Waste Not” Benefit for SCRAP and Disjecta, Portland, Oregon, 2006
Aries Gallery, Houston, group show, 1990
Little Egypt Enterprises, Houston, 1988
Fundacion Emusa, La Paz, Bolivia, 1986
Toni Jones Gallery, “Gallery Artists”, 1985
Midtown Art Center, Houston, 1983
Midtown Art Center, “Midtown Art Center Premier Event”, Houston, 1982
Toni Jones Gallery, “Gallery Artists Exhibition”, Houston, 1983
Harris Gallery, “Prints by Little Egypt Enterprises”, 1982
Moody Gallery, “Prints by Little Egypt Enterprises”, Houston, 1980
Toni Jones Gallery, “Group Conscience”,Houston, 1980
Deutser Art Gallery, Jewish Community Center, Houston, 1979
Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, Texas, “Houston Area Exhibition”, 1977
Sewall Art Gallery, Rice University, Houston, 1974
Five-painting commission, Baker World Trade, Inc., Houston, 1979
Second Prize, 15th Annual Juried Art Exhihition, Jewish Community Center of Houston, Deutser Art Gallery, 1979
Portland Art Dealers Association, Enlightened Hive featured in email invitation to First Thursday, March 7, 2013: http://www.stephenadams.com/words/PADA1.html
The Joinery Blog, “Scrap Becomes Art”, September 29, 2012, http://www.thejoinery.com/joinery-scrap-becomes-art
Foley, Margaret, “Sculpture as Juxtaposition”, Oregon Home, June, 2008
Sussman, M. Hal, “Journey Beyond Modernism,” Art Scene, November/December, 1980.
Sussman, M. Hal, “Profile of Steve Adams” Art Voices South, September/October, 1980
Tennant, Donna, “Restoring Art to the People,” The Houston Chronicle, Zest Magazine, October 16, 1980
Houston Chronicle, November 5, 1983
August 30 – September 1, 2019
More than a year ago I began collaborating with Shu-Ju Wang on pieces that stem from her early memories of traumatic swimming lessons, which weren’t successful, since she never learned how to swim well. (The title of her show next month at Waterstone Gallery is “Things that Don’t Float”.) I of course was aware of her previous shows, in which water was a major theme, but learning about her childhood ordeal—associated with swimming—put a whole new light on her focus. It’s acknowledging a primal fear, and it uses that fear as inspiration. And transforms it into something beautiful. Or emotionally resonant. I really admire this, and have loved working with her on our joint pieces.
I chose “Rain” as a title because it is a word with both negative and positive connotations. Because our present time is in one sense the best time ever for humans to be alive: greater wealth, longer life spans, less violence, less political oppression, greater material and technological benefits. But at the same time there’s this sense among so many of us that we are in a very, very bad place, right on the brink of catastrophe. As if we’re speeding along a winding road at the edge of a cliff above a turbulent ocean in a very fancy, comfortable, electric (of course!) car, driverless (piloted by artificial intelligence). The satellite radio is blasting—it’s a great party—what could go wrong? Look on the bright side!
Rain is the type of weather we complain about. We hate rainy days, but without those rainy days our crops die, and we starve. It’s life-giving, but too much of it destroys our cities, washing away our houses and lives. It can be biblically apocalyptic: forty days and forty nights.
More and more, wildfires are becoming the new normal seasonal occurrence in the west and northwest. All our magnificent power can really do very little to stop a wildfire. Rain is really the only thing that can put them out. We pray for it to come. But then in a few months we pray for it to stop, as the floodwaters top the levees and sweep away crops, livestock, farmhouses.
Water is very heavy, yet rain is water suspended as if by magic in the sky, seemingly weightless, and it falls as creator and destroyer. How strange and paradoxical is that?
Like rain seeping into a basement through the crumbling foundation of an old house, the day to day occurrences I’ve been dealing with during the past two years insinuate their way into my art work, and they’re intimately connected to my primal fears:
—growing older and starting to feel the inevitable decline of my own body;
—care-giving for loved ones who died or are dying, and dealing with the inevitable clean-up afterwards;
—witnessing the inability of our nation and species to even acknowledge, let alone solve, our greatest long-term existential threats; and of course, more generally, —death and impermanence, of persons and of civilizations.
Most people wouldn’t include the above list as “inspirational”. Rather, they’re included in the set of things that awaken you at 4 a.m. and keep you brooding, not letting you resume sleep.
All or most of the pieces in this show are made with found materials, often broken objects. If they show cracks or damage or imperfections, or look partially ruined, all the better. Such objects point to their destination as land-fill, had I not intervened. Their usage in art delays by a little bit that ultimate arrival.
Many of the pieces have cracks in both opaque and transparent materials. An old person’s skin is thin, cracked, and crepe-like, but so is a hatching egg, or roots of a tree breaking a concrete sidewalk. Like rain, cracked objects can be seen both negatively and positively, both as ruination and rebirth.
August 4 – 30, 2015
Fragility, Imperfection, and Resilience
1. Fragility: things break.
2. Imperfection: live with it.
3. Resilience: comes from accepting 1 and 2.
The work in this show is a continuity of themes and paths I’ve been following in the past, so in one sense it’s title could just as easily be the called “New Work”. But, it’s sometimes good for an artist to try and put into words the stuff that’s bubbling around his subconscious while he works, and it can give insight into the new work the artist might not even realize was there.
Fragility, imperfection, and resilience are qualities we usually associate with living things, and especially human beings. Life is fragile—we all die, our imperfections are too numerous to think about comfortably, yet we know that it’s possible for us to bend and not break, to endure difficulties, and to make the best of our flawed circumstances, i.e. to be resilient.
The fact that organisms die, and that random variations happen, or, if you will, “imperfections” occur in a genetic code that’s been perfectly stable for eons—is the very engine of evolution. Most artists use thought processes that are looser and less disciplined than those of, say, scientists or mathematicians, and so we have a tendency to talk about subjects in those fields in order to lend more credence and respectability to our work. It may be bogus philosophically to make metaphorical comparisons between, say, evolutionary biology and art, but we artists live in a wider world, and we hear echoes and fragments of ideas that percolate throughout the culture, so, I think it’s natural for us to try and relate our narrow concerns to that wider world. It’s all part of the stew of ideas we swim in, and part of what makes what artists do interesting is that we reach out and grab ideas that may drift by, and put them to use in unusual or unconventional ways.
So, what does that have to do with art, especially my art? Since I work with glass, I’m keenly aware of the concept of fragility. Glass breaks and is damaged very easily. Recently I saw a documentary about the well-known Seattle artist Ginny Ruffner. She was teaching a class on some glass technique, and one of the first things she did was to deliberately drop a glass piece on the floor. The students gasped. A very important lesson: glass breaks—deal with it. At another time I saw an incredibly delicate piece of glass art at Bullseye Gallery, and asked how on earth they shipped such a piece, which resembled nothing so much as a small sea urchin with very thin glass spines protruding all around it. I was told that the artist accepted that such a piece had a limited life span, that it could hardly be moved without inflicting some kind of damage on it, and that the piece’s ephemerality was built into its very idea. Accepting the idea that art has a life span, that it’s like a living thing, can be a very liberating thing. Because the idea we are sold that art is “eternal” is a chimera.
Related to fragility is the idea of imperfection, because often what determines if an organism lives or dies are flaws in its ability to survive. In art, a flaw in the conception of the piece can cause it to fail, but in a complex piece the possibility of flawlessness, as defined as absolute fidelity to the artist’s vision, is almost impossible. When you work with glass, because of its transparency flaws are very easy to see. In my work, there are bubbles in the laminating process, scratches in the grinding and polishing, and chips and dings on the edges. Problems with how the glass and wood fit together. And, wood has its own irregularities—imperfections that arise from its being a once-living object. Completing a piece means learning to tolerate flaws that don’t seriously detract from its nature. If I didn’t accept a certain amount of imperfection, I’d never complete anything—I’d be stuck forever on the same piece, trying to get it absolutely right. All artists struggle with the question of when to leave well enough alone. When do you make something better by continuing to tinker with it? When do you ruin it by doing so? I continually try to learn and live with imperfections, so I’m free to move on to new things. The process of aging brings this problem into sharp focus, because you realize you don’t have a whole lot of time left to devote to trivial stuff.
Resilience. I continue to explore the variations of the basic patterns inherent in the natural world: the circle, the spiral, the serpentine, among others. But also basic geometric shapes like rectangles and squares, right angles and straight lines. These patterns are resilient because they are capable of almost endless change while still maintaining their basic core idea. I’m interested in how the supposedly different worlds of the human-made and/or human-discovered, interact with naturally occurring forms, and I try to express what I think is their basic unity. A good example of how this unity is expressed is in the idea of division, symmetry, and reflection. Cutting a thing in two is in one sense the most violent, primitive, and artificial thing you can think of, yet it is also what cells do: they divide. They form near-perfect (again the idea of imperfection appears) symmetrical reflections of one another. So, two of the pieces—Intimacy #2 and Quadrants: Intimacy #3 explore ideas of division, reflection, and symmetry. Similarly, several deal with ideas of hidden order. Two of the pieces—Gyre and Influence of an Absent Form—were made by stacking glass around a cylinder, which was then removed. The ordering principle is there, but absent, or rather, unseen, like mathematical laws. Two of the pieces—Interlocking #5 and Interlocking #6—play with the idea of how the natural and artificial interact: they are separate, but are interlocking with one other to form an unbroken circle.
The individual manifestations of these basic forms and principles are almost infinitely varied and are subject to change, breakage and imperfection, but the ideas themselves are ultimately resilient.
Recent Work 2009-2012
The Serpent in the Golden Rectangle
Caveat: none of my recent pieces are illustrations or examples of the ideas mentioned in this statement. Rather, the ideas are after-the-fact attempts to describe or evoke some of my thoughts during the period I made the works. First comes the object, and thencomes the attempt at conscious explanation. I don’t consider the artist necessarily authoritative in describing or criticizing the ideas inherent in his or her work.
Many of my recent works are constructed using the proportions of the Golden Rectangle in one form or another.
The sides of a Golden Rectangle are proportionally 1: ~1.618. The “magical” feature of this rectangle is when you remove a square portion from it, the remaining portion is also a Golden Rectangle, and when you remove a square from the second portion, another Golden Rectangle remains, ad infinitum.
These dimensions have intrigued artists and architects for centuries. Architects use these dimensions for windows that are supposed to be intrinsically pleasing to the eye. Painters have used this ratio in the dimensions for portraits. The exterior dimensions of the Parthenon form a Golden Rectangle.
By using the dimensions of the square as the radius of an arc on each of the smaller squares, one can draw, using a compass, a logarithmic spiral, which is one of the basic shapes of nature.
In all the multiplicity of natural forms there are only a handful of these basic shapes, including the logarithmic spiral, the serpentine or meander, and the fractal tree-branching form. The spiral form is connected to ideas of infinity on both cosmological and microscopic levels. It can be seen in the shapes of galaxies and bacteria. Since there is this mathematical linkage to the concept of limitlessness, I wanted to use the Golden Rectangle consciously as a paradoxical or perhaps perversely limiting factor in the evolution of a given piece.
Some of the completed works started out in the following manner. First, I cut many rectangles of glass in the proportions of the Golden Rectangle. Then, I scored an arc or serpentine shape, for example, through each piece, then broke the glass along the score, so that from each rectangle I would have two pieces, each having one curved edge. I then stacked the glass vertically with the edges slightly offset, so that the edges of the vertical stack followed the same or similar curve used in scoring each individual rectangle. Then I laminate the pieces and grind and polish the edges, which is a very laborious process, taking many days, sometimes weeks. In other works, the components of glass and base have the proportions of a Golden Rectangle. In still another I cut many small glass rectangles in those proportions and stacked them like building blocks.
I have been using the serpentine shape in my work for a number of years. It is the form that flowing water assumes in its interaction with the land, because it requires the least amount of energy–it is the path of least resistance. Rivers and streams are vectors of erosion, as is the wind and the air shaping sand and earth. In a sense they are sculptural tools that shape the earth with water over time on a very large scale.
Our understanding of the mathematics governing these basic shapes, e.g., chaos theory, and fractal geometry—subjects of which I know admittedly very little—has advanced comparatively recently, during the second half of the 20th century. Before that, the older Euclidean geometry, of which the Golden Rectangle is part, had become more than just a mathematical tradition of our culture. It had become emblematic of civilization itself, and embodied symbolically the values of order, reason, science, restraint, etc. The untamed world—the world of rushing water, hurricanes and tornadoes, vast mountain ranges—was viewed as the world of the Other, of the Romantic Sublime, a world opposite to order and reason. The serpent and other parts of this untamed world became associated with the irrational. Chaos was viewed as irrational.
But today we understand that chaos theory describes the flow of water and complex weather systems. We know that fractal geometry describes the form of mountain ranges and the branching of trees and rivers. They follow mathematical rules as strict as Euclidean geometry. They no longer reside in the untamed, irrational part of the world. Still, there seems to be this tension in our stubborn consciousness between these two “poles” of the world, between the Serpent and the Golden Rectangle, between the irrational and the rational, between Apollo and Dionysus, and it continues to influence the way we perceive things, just as religious mythology profoundly affects us, even though we consciously discount it.
There are still these rich tangled skeins of symbolic and poetic associations and imagery to explore artistically between these two polar “opposites”. They continue to color our perception of the world, even though consciously we know they are not opposites at all, but are each embedded in the one world we perceive.
Since so many of my pieces are composed of glass, whose characteristics include clarity, linearity, weight, transparency, reflectivity, and fragility, I usually seek to exploit and emphasize these seductive, even hypnotic qualities. It is the perfect Apollonian medium, the perfect medium to describe the Euclidian world of the Golden Rectangle: light, order, reason, harmony, and restraint. Glass as a medium is seemingly “permanent” in that it isn’t subject to rot or decay. But it is very brittle and easily broken.
In contrast I have also been using within the same piece other materials suggesting disorder and decay, materials like rusty wire and nails, semi-decayed wood, crumbling concrete–materials having characteristics exactly opposite to those of glass. They are dirty, opaque, crude, amorphous, and inexact, and can allude to the darker, more resilient Dionysian aspects of life like dissolution and decay, which must be given their due. Otherwise, we are in a state of denial about our own nature and the problems we face–in denial over the fact that the Serpent and the Golden Rectangle are of the same world, that the Serpent is in fact in the Golden Rectangle.
Recent Work 2009
On Nature and Artifice
My sculpture is not obviously representational, and so in some ways resembles the nonobjective art of the last century. The intention of many artists of that era was to pare art down to its basic constituents, that is, to empty out all meaning and content. I share with them a quest for simplicity, but I believe that, like it or not, meaning, content, symbolism, are inherently present in art objects, or rather, inherently present in the artistic experience. We cannot help but associate even very simple objects with experiences, thoughts, emotions, ideas, symbols. A painting is not just a painted surface on a flat canvas. A sculpture is not merely an arrangement of metal, wood, or stone. Like language, it points to something else.
Unlike language, the meaning or content of an art object is less exact. An essay, for example, denotes ideas and arguments using a vocabulary of words in exact ways, and those ideas are subject to logical refutation and rebuttal. But visual art, like poetry, connotes: the meaning arising from an art object is thus fluid, subjective, and emotional, but it does convey ideas that are just as real as those expressed in written or spoken language.
Just as in an essay, a simple set of words—a vocabulary—is combined in a certain order using a multiplicity of rules to express complex concepts, so I use a simple set of objects, combining and juxtaposing them in unexpected or paradoxical ways to convey a similar complexity. The rules that govern these combinations are subtle, but present. My esthetic vocabulary in the last seven years has consisted of common, easily-found objects: lumber, sticks, branches, hollowed-out logs and stumps, stones, copper pipe, glass that’s been cut, fused, and polished.
I don’t strive consciously for either abstraction or representation in my work, but certain abstract shapes I use resemble functional objects, and so acquire a representational character. For example, the curve of a tree trunk might suggest the keel of a ship, an undulating form might bring to mind a snake or worm, a smooth rock might evoke an egg, a concave curve—a nest. I play with these representational suggestions, using placements that often contradict the functions we expect of those objects. And maybe new meanings arise.
If I had to identify a single thread that runs through my work it is the underlying unity of the natural and the artificial. This has been a long-standing theme in my career, since much of my earlier work—primarily mixed-media paintings shown in the Houston area during the 70s and 80s—touched upon the same topic. Since we evolved from nature, the artificial is an evolutionary progression from the natural world, i.e., artifice arises from nature: really anything we do can be viewed as a natural process, as natural as the wind or the rain. When we think of things in terms of the traditional opposition between natural and artificial, it’s a convenient way to categorize the world, but it can also be misleading. There are real differences, but it’s not a matter of a simple demarcation line separating two opposing realms. Rather, many aspects of these opposites relate to each other in complex ways that weave back and forth. They relate to each other as the intricate yet disparate strands of a braid. They are separate but interlocking.
That being said, I discover and/or identify thematic or symbolic content after the fact, and that interpretation is subject to dispute. I don’t think an artist’s interpretation of his or her own work is authoritative, or even necessarily helpful. I never start a piece thinking about what I want it to mean, and I seldom begin a work with the finished state in mind. I might have an idea of the final outcome beforehand, but that idea is less like a blueprint and more like a sign beside a path in the woods. The writer John Fowles described the process of writing as a “walk in the woods”: the destination is unclear and the path is winding and often tangled, the walk being itself an act of discovery. The act of making is how I discover what I want to convey, what I want to see in the end.
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