International Artist Jamie Adams' 'New Works' Opens Tonight at Philip Slein Gallery

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

Does artist Jamie Adams have an obsession with Jean Seberg? It might seem so, viewing his series of paintings titled, “Jeannie,” which explores the world of the Jean-Luc Godard film, “Breathless,” with Jean Seberg as the protagonist. For Adams’ second series, “Niagara,” Jeannie has moved outdoors and is joined by a colorful cast of characters at the famous Falls, but where the “Jeannie” series is in black and white, “Niagara” is in living Technicolor. Obsession or not, Adams’ spectacular, intriguing and erotic paintings will go on exhibit at the Philip Slein Gallery with an opening reception tonight, Friday, April 11, from 6-8pm.

"Jeannie" Series Jamie Adams Courtesy of the artist

“Jeannie” Series
Jamie Adams
Courtesy of the artist and Philip Slein Gallery

Adams, who teaches at Washington University and is represented in the permanent collection of museums in Brazil, New York, Wales, Los Angeles, Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon, worked on the “Jeannie” series from 2006-2012, then began on the “Niagara” series, which is still in progress. The Slein Gallery will showcase works from both of the series. Adams’ work is strikingly detailed with a mysterious quality that exists somewhere between reality and dreams. Jean-Luc Godard’s film has been widely heralded for its bold visual style. Godard had nothing on Adams as far as boldness or style is concerned. His works draws the viewer into an exciting, sensuous world that can only exist in a film or on a canvas.

"Jeannie" Series Jamie Adams Courtesy of the artist and Philip Slein Gallery

“Jeannie” Series
Jamie Adams
Courtesy of the artist and Philip Slein Gallery

ALIVE caught up with Adams to get the story behind the both of the series and what motivates him.

ALIVE: Tell us about the “Jeannie” series.

Adams: The Jeannie series is a series of B&W paintings that were made between 2007 and 2012, based loosely on the Jean-Luc Godard film, “Breathless,” starring Jean Seberg and Jean Paul Belmondo. What I have been doing was focusing primarily on Jean Seberg’s character in the film, particularly at her apartment in Paris.

ALIVE: Why focus on that film?

Adams: There were things there that I was responding to. I was quite taken by the lighting in particular. At the time, I had just got back from teaching Wash U students in Florence and I was at a place where I thought I needed to demand more from the work, my own work—to make a change—and I was quite affected by the sculptures at the Bargello and those sort of precise, hard-edged paintings, and the kind of delicacy in the paintings as well. I brought all that back with me. At that time I was watching a lot of ’60s camp films with Presley and Marilyn Monroe and things like that, but also I was very enamored of Euro-American films by Bergman and Fellini and others. And Jean-Luc Godard.

ALIVE: And Jean Seberg?

Adams: I was really transfixed by the Jeannie character. She reminded me of—oddly enough—of myself as a younger man, but also my mother. There was kind of a familial appearance to her. A family relationship in her physiognomy; the proportions of her face reminded me of a connection to myself and my mother and lovers and so on. But as the series developed and continued, I began to realize that my obsession with this character really had a lot to do with my just living with a woman and the reality of my own existence and the relationship with my wife. Her character was quite empty for me.  It’s like I had hired Jean Seberg to play a role in my paintings. Those are the Jeannie paintings.

"Niagra" series Jamie Adams Courtesy of the Artist

“Niagra” series
Jamie Adams
Courtesy of the Artist and Philip Slein Gallery

ALIVE: Why did you switch to color for the Niagra series? Is it because you moved out of the world of the B&W movie and are now outdoors, so of course it’s in color, or is it as simple as you just wanted to work in color again?

Adams: Over the course of my career, I’ve painted full color paintings, so the switch to B&W was a pretty severe change for me. You get a couple of years into the series, and every couple of years I found myself saying, “Do I go back to color now?” Even dealers would ask me, “When are you going to get back to color?” (laughs) but only one in particular in Brooklyn. The others were trusting the development of the series and me, I think, enough to not really ask that question too often. But it was always in the back of my mind and so I had quite a few years prior to making the move.

ALIVE: How did you wind up at Niagara Falls?

Adams: I started to look at some other films. I was expanding the environment a little bit. I watched “Last Tango in Paris” and some other films. In my mind I was trying to venture out beyond the film “Breathless.” In the end I decided to use the film—and not just this film but a number of films now that I’m drawing from—but I decided to use the film “Niagra” by Henry Hathaway. There is a difference in this series, but you have little way of finding out that information. It’s certainly not there visually. This is just beginning for me. The Falls themselves are like a backdrop most of the time. It’s like a film screen behind. It’s not the awesome powerful torrent of water that really got me excited about making use of this film.

"Niagra" series Jamie Adams Courtesy of the Artist

“Niagra” series
Jamie Adams
Courtesy of the Artist and Philip Slein Gallery

ALIVE: Where is Marilyn Monroe?

Adams: I sort of stayed away from Marilyn Monroe the first year or so into the series. I’ve introduced her now into this large painting that I’m making now, but I’m not even sure she’s going to stay there. The image is so difficult to work with. It’s like a wall. You know, the image is so overwrought. So there’s an image of her where she’s smiling in such an extreme way, I almost liken it to a scream, and that was my initial impulse to use that image of her in this painting. But even with that—we’ll see if it remains or even if it does what I want it to do.

I may start to introduce some of the narrative itself. Probably the one thing that is most obviously affecting my work is the melodrama in the film. The use of Technicolor. I actually looked at Douglass Sirk, people like that. He was an emigre from Nazi Germany who lived in Hollywood and was one of the more intellectual filmmakers at the time. He made films like “All that Heaven Allows” with Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. That’s a really interesting film. I’ve been looking into this sort of post-war anxiety expressed through Technicolor.

ALIVE: Many of the paintings in the Niagra series have classical elements to me. Many of them look like classical portraits, and some group scenes—I’m thinking of the one where the woman is lying on the ground perhaps dead or dying—have this subtle grandness, like angels and cherubs wouldn’t feel out of place.

Adams: For those paintings, I was looking at so many different sources. I used to work as a portrait artist. I still do some commission work. For example, I did a portrait of Dr. Gerald Early at Wash U where I teach. At my alma mater, Carnegie Melon, I’ve most recently done 8 or 9 Nobel laureates for their business school. It’s not the focus of my work by any means, but I definitely make use of the visual tropes from portrait painting or figurative painting, both American and European.

My references are Van Dyke, for some of his figures, some of his compositions. The one that you refer to with the figure lying down I began by looking at Rembrandt’s anatomy lessons, and the fellow leaning over with the purple is a reference to one of those Rembrandt characters looking over the carcass—a really strange kind of pose for that figure. Any kind of twisting or twerking is coming from Michelangelo’s slave sculptures. I’m interested in representing bodies that are complicated and so there’s a mixed gender or mixed age kind of referencing, so they’re not so simple to access. There’s a way in which I even attempt to impose my own wishful thinking, whether it be the Jean Seberg series or some of these later ones.

ALIVE: The paintings are erotic.

Adams: There is certainly this eroticized quality, but I’d like to think there’s a kind of empathy as well. So I’m doing things like broadening her shoulders, or diminishing her hips. It’s almost like I’m giving myself a makeover. With the Jeannie series in particular, and with the Niagra series, with this diminutive character, like boy or child adolescent, androgynous, and that’s like an alter ego or some kind of avatar or something. A lot of times that character has a big full head of hair, like it’s on fire—some big huge thing. That’s my own initial thinking coming into play.

The Niagra red chair is a lift from one of my own commissions that references American portrait artists. The accouterments of an ornate chair or the way that I play with a mixture of materials like satin or shiny objects, or just certain kinds of materials with holes and so forth, are the ingredients that a representational artist uses to build the believability and the authority of the image, so I definitely play into that as well.

ALIVE: Are some of the works being shown for the first time?

Adams: It’s a different kind of show because it’s showing two sets of works from a few years ago that have never been shown in St. Louis. They’ve been shown in Chicago and on the West Coast—but it’s nice to have them back in this area, and along with the Niagara paintings. We’re still tweaking which ones will be shown; it will be the first time that I get to see semblances of these two series put together in an interesting way. It will be fun to see the space between them. There are certainly connections. The Jeannie character still finds her way into the latest series. She’s not the central figure as much as before, but I continue to “hire” her—if you will—as part of the new series but with a more expanded repertoire. I’m looking forward to it. It’s always great to share the work.

Jamie Adams’ “New Works” opens at Philip Slein Gallery Friday, April 11, with a reception from 6-8pm. For more information, visit the Philip Slein Gallery website.

Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly

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