Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Erica H. Adams

"A result of living year-round on Cape Cod and teaching in Boston resonates with the way Nature and Culture interact."

Melt, 2014, watercolor and mixed media on panel, 18 x 18 inches

About the Work

In these new abstract paintings in watercolor on wood panels, a classical European technique used by Vermeer and Rembrandt, called underpainting, is reconfigured for a contemporary dialogue of Nature versus Culture. Materials become metaphors. As sunlight illuminates stained glass, an underpainting is a layer of dark and light –thick and thin tones -over which transparent color is applied for a luminous effect.

Here, the underpainting is made visible: it erupts through and interacts with the painted surface in order to form a literal and metaphoric response or disconnect between Nature and Culture. The underpainting represents Nature–raw, thick and unruly–while the vertical stripes equal culture.

The materials are metaphors and used in a non-traditional way: the underpainting or support for the paintings is built-up in successive layers of acrylic mediums mixed with volatile additives such as stone, soda ash, and glass. Humidity and chemistry, different mediums and mixtures react in unforeseen ways that are not always understood until dried. Each layer requires different drying times and results in organic shapes similar to geological formations.

No conscious attempt to replicate the surface look of Nature is made. However, a result of living year-round on Cape Cod and teaching in Boston resonates with the way Nature and Culture interact, are visualized and separate. The material process of making these paintings engages chance operations –a certain letting-go of ego or individual choice -and the resulting textures become metaphors for climatic and geological change or, are transformative change itself.

Verdant/Oxidized, 2014, watercolor and mixed media on panel, 12 x 12 inches

Erode/Corrode, 2014, watercolor and mixed media on panel, 12 x 12 inches

Aqueous/Viscous, 2014, watercolor and mixed media on panel, 12 x 12 inches

Thaw,  2014, watercolor and mixed media on panel, 20 x 16 inches

Reflecting on Cape Cod

Since the 1950s, I’ve observed many changes on Cape Cod: Introduced to Cape Cod, as a child through the marine science community in Woods Hole where my friend’s father was a ‘summer scientist’ at Marine Biological Lab (MBL), I saw the ocean differently. The drive from Boston on Route 3 was one lane with sand drifts that stalled cars until scientists discovered that pines planted in sand firmed the soil then beach grass grew, this reduced sand drifts and stalled cars.

My first impression of Cape Cod was the marine science community where I met luminaries of the arts and sciences alongside abundance of heat, sand, water and pines. The importance of marine science to the world can’t be overstated as we face climate change. Since my 2001 move to the Cape, I’ve attended science lectures in Woods Hole at MBL, WHOI and the National Academy of Science. In 2010, I curated an off-Cape exhibit with a science seminar: Extinct! Endangered Species and Habitats will have companion exhibit in 2016.

Early 70s, in Provincetown with artist friends from Boston, the Cape was a summer retreat given a historical perspective by my maternal grandparents:
. In the 1920s, newly wed, my grandparents ran guest inn, Eight Bells, in Provincetown, home to Provincetown Players (1915-1929) and, playwright Eugene O’Neil alongside notable writers and artists. Provincetown Players “wintered” in New York City.

Over the next decades, in every season, I visited friends in Falmouth and Provincetown.

In 2001, I bought a home and built a studio on upper Cape Cod, a direct result of Boston’s gentrification. Life on Cape continued as if I was in Boston: I work in my studio and exhibit; write a column about the arts published in Europe; curate exhibits and, teach painting in Boston at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University.

Changes on Cape Cod over six decades include: 
. Changing coastlines
. Climate change fostered a new ecosystem and economy:  More snowfall. Humid summers defined as tropical in meteorological terms
. New climates altered migratory patterns of non-native birds and an excess seals both drawn by Cape’s warmer air and waters that also brought sharks 
. The decline of Cod and the Cape's fishing industry
. More tourists, more year-round residents and more culture

Climate change as much as my move from the city to a seaside community has changed my focus and my artwork.
Inspiration? Cape Cod’s science community, climate change and nature, in that order:
. Light on water inspired over a decade of writing and fascination with glass as art. Water’s fluidity and geological layers inspired watercolors
. Climate change on Cape Cod –extreme winter storms, tropical bird songs, extreme textures of moss and ice on trees, flooded coastlines -all these natural events and raw textures have inspired metaphors (and, realities) in my new paintings and photography
. Concurrent with abstract paintings exhibited at Cape Cod Museum of Art, I continue to make artwork reflective of contemporary social issues and phenomena in many media

Of Cape’s many attributes, I’ve always associated Cape Cod with marine science in Woods Hole, culture in Provincetown and nature in New England’s four seasons.

Stardust, 2014, watercolor and mixed Media on panel, 12 x 12 inches

Cenote, 2014, watercolor and mixed media on panel, 12 x 12 inches

Crystalized, 2014, watercolor and mixed media on panel, 12 x 12 inches