In our postmodern art landscape, we are so accustomed to irony that sometimes a dose of concentrated sincerity can be shocking to our sensibilities. That sincerity is a blood (occasionally near-literal) pulsing through the work of oil painter Evan Adams, whose senior show is currently up at the Seattle Pacific Art Gallery. Adams’ colorful pieces attempt to capture “the utmost of human experience… beyond visual perception.” Between his artist’s statement, the poetry mounted on the walls, and the unrelenting vibrancy of color and motion, the emotionalism of Adams’ show is unapologetic, and as such occasionally falls flat or becomes saccharine. But when Adams is doing what he does best, his pieces have an ethereal beauty and a truly moving quality.
The first thing to strike the viewer about the show is color—each piece is soaked with bright hues, one on top of the other, swirling and moving in sync (and sometimes not in sync). The colors are, for the most part, bright, fresh and saturated, though Adams also likes to work with some blacks and pastels for contrast. The scope varies with the canvas size—his larger pieces reach for a broad spectrum, while his smaller ones are often case studies with just one or two hues. An abstract expressionist at heart, Adams seeks to organize colors in order to take the viewer into a spiritual space. The pieces that best accomplish this are his larger, more fluid pieces, with long, meditative brushstrokes. In the left corner of the gallery is his most successful work, “In the Beginning.” Turquoise, lavender, soft orange and bright pink cascade down the canvas, recalling water and air—the “breath of life.” Its diagonal motion, both ascendant and swirling at once, is transporting, and an example of the moving power of pure color. A violet-themed piece on the opposite wall, “Purple Haze,” is similar in its uniform vision and marriage of color to motion. Both of these pieces reveal Adams’ sense of color harmony and visual beauty.
There is a conscious sense of the physicality of the paint, slathered on thick with dramatic brushstrokes. Though in most cases the color is the content, the brushstrokes go a long way toward determining the success of the pieces. The most gorgeous paintings display a smooth, wet-into-wet technique that creates a silky, dreamy quality, visible in several of the works, perhaps half. Others have an intriguing, feathery feel. But Adams’ colorful sense of wonder gets obscured when the brushstrokes become blunt and thick, especially in the smaller pieces; when this happens, the paintings take on a finger-paint quality that reads more as a study than as a completed work.
Moving outside of these color-studies, Adams’ work becomes more ambitious, with large canvases expressing themes of redemption—two with tree-like subjects and swirling rainbow colors, and one expressing the passion of the Christ. All have a beautiful sense of color, but there is a nagging sense that the forms in the pieces are not as well rendered as they could be which distracts from the overall impression. Adams excels in creating emotion out of pure color and movement, and any move into more representative work finds him faltering slightly. His Christ has the potential to be riveting, but I couldn’t help wondering if it might have been more effective with even more abstraction—perhaps we didn’t need to see his face.
In the front of the gallery, Adams has a “cave” of mirrors of sorts set up for the viewer to step into, each mirror splashed with a bright color. This piece seems to exemplify what he wants viewers to take away from the experience. Adams wants each person who steps into the gallery to have a highly personal experience—to see the colors and see themselves, to go to a spiritual place with the help of the images. If Adams continues to play with the beautiful harmonies of color that he has begun to explore, he is sure to move many.