Art Buff: Bruce Adams
Where are you from originally?
What is your medium?
I’m mostly known as a painter, oil and acrylic.
How has Buffalo influenced your work?
Buffalo has influenced my work in unexpected ways. First, Buffalo has a rich art environment. So many artists, so many great institutions, so many pockets of creative energy. If you want to be a serious artist, there are plenty of resources here. But Buffalo is a terrible art market; it’s very hard to sell work here. This actually had a liberating effect on my work enabling me to do whatever I wanted artistically without concern for whether it would sell. Also–and again I think this is because there is no market here–artists are generally not competitive; there is a cooperative spirit among artists and arts institutions that makes for a very nurturing environment to work. Finally, Buffalo’s excess of cheap rentable space makes it possible for me to have a studio that would be the envy of artists in most other cities. So again, I can afford to make whatever I want without concern for what sells.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I soak up whatever I come into contact with, whether it be an exhibition, a publication, or a lively conversation. Along the way I soak up anything that resonates with me personally. Each of these sources makes a tiny impact and they go into the blender that is my head and come out looking like what I do.
Name an artist (or more) that most inspires you?
I always have trouble with this question, because there are so many who inspire me in so many ways. I think I am most inspired by artists that appear to be totally different than me. Marcel Duchamp is my fallback answer. I’ve studied him and reflected on his ideas, and they have a big impact on what I do, but it wouldn’t be apparent from my work.
What is your preferred subject matter?
As long as I can remember I have been drawn to the figure. This was true when figurative painting was in vogue and when it wasn’t. I have done other things, and I’m doing other things now, but I always come back to representing the human form.
How do you feel you can best advance to the next level, or are you most happy where you are now?
I think you always have to have a “next level” in mind, something to strive for, or you become stagnant. Artistically–even within the relatively narrow area of art I have chosen to concentrate–there is so much more to explore and learn. So that’s ongoing. As for my career, I am working on getting my art out to a broader audience.
What is another medium that you would like to learn? Or that you have already learned?
I have worked in installation and performance art, sculpture, printmaking, and while people who know my work might be surprised, I used to work in film and video. But there comes a point where you have to narrow your options down, so I will concentrate mostly on painting from here on out, and maybe do some related printmaking. But I never say never.
Is there a purpose to your artwork?
Wow, I have to admit, that question takes me by surprise. If you believe there is a purpose to art in general, and you accept that I make art, then it follows that my art has purpose. I don’t think you have room to print my 10-week lecture course on the purpose of art, so I’ll just say art is a vital part of our culture. In many ways it serves similar functions to science, philosophy, and religion. Art is the R&D for society. It’s a process by which we arrive at a deeper understanding of the world and ourselves. On a more personal level, I can’t really imagine life without art. I mean even when I try, I simply can’t imagine what that would be like.
How often do you work on your art?
Well the brush hits the canvas between a couple times a week to every day, depending on my schedule. But other aspects of life like teaching, writing, being a husband, homeowner, and gardener (among other things) often nudge painting aside. But even when I’m not actually painting, I’m often doing something related to my work, from ruminating on new ideas or directions, to the business of being an artist, which many people don’t realize is extremely time consuming.
What or who first prompted you to venture into the art world?
There’s a story I’ve told many times: I always had an interest in art as long as I can remember, but when I was in about fifth grade, in Saint Leo’s School where there were no art classes, there was a teacher that offered after school art for students who were interested. She gave us an assignment to draw a still life at home, and on open house night she had mine hanging up in the large common area. I was standing near her as she talked to my parents in a hushed voice and I overheard her saying that I was really good at drawing and this could be something I could pursue professionally–or words to that effect. I remember feeling like I had a super power. I could do something that others couldn’t. It was that exact moment that I decided to become an artist.
Have you been schooled in art? Are you planning on attending art school? If so, where?
I went to Buffalo State for Art Education, so it was there that I took a wide range of art courses, but honestly, I learned almost nothing of value about art there. My real education came from my involvement in the art community, especially with Hallwalls. Hallwalls is where I either learned what I needed to know, or where I discovered what I didn’t know, and then I went out on my own and learned it. I’m still learning.
Where is your favorite venue in Buffalo to exhibit?
Trick question, right? I have work in the Albright-Knox collection, and when that’s on display, is there anything better? But in terms of just a great place to display art in General, the UB Anderson Gallery is amazing. I had a major show there and it looked spectacular.
Where is your current/next show in the city? Dates? Opening night?
As of this moment, several possibilities are percolating, but nothing is final.
What is the title and theme of the show/s?
I have two series in the works. So the next show will be on one of these. One looks at historical painting and the way people–mostly women–are used metaphorically and in depicting myth and legend. There are certain conventions that I’m addressing, but I’m contemporizing them with a 21st century twist. The other series most directly relates to ideas put forth by surrealists regarding chance and spontaneity.
Where did you learn your craft?
Largely in my studio. Also by looking very closely at paintings in museums and galleries. I’m the guy in the museum standing six inches from the work and tilting my head back so I can focus through the bottom of my bifocals. In college, I learned very little, because I had a good high school background. But as far as painting, I managed to graduate with almost no knowledge about that. Which is why I try as an educator to pass on what I’ve learned to others.
What book are you reading right now?
I just finished several and haven’t had time to start another. I think the last was God, No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette. Sorry St. Leo’s; it didn’t take.
What’s your favorite movie?
Titanic 3D. No, I’m just kidding; I don’t really have one. There’s an old made-for-TV movie that had a big impact on me when I was a kid called ‘They Might be Giants’ (most likely where the band got its name) with George C. Scott, but I haven’t seen it in 40 years.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Buffalo?
It would be hard to pick one. We were going to The Italian Village on Grant Street almost weekly for about twenty-seven years. It felt like home, but they closed, so now if we want Italian comfort food, we have to drive out to their second location in Williamsville. So we don’t get there often.
What’s the best thing about being an artist?
The groupies. No, I’m just kidding again. I think being an artist is the best thing about being an artist. Can you imagine anything better? You make stuff no one has ever seen before. It’s immensely fulfilling.
What’s the worst thing about being an artist?
Well if I die young from solvent related cancer, it will be that. Otherwise it’s probably the unlikelihood that I will ever make a living doing it. Most artists have to have another means of support, and having two or more jobs can be exhausting.
Is there another local artist who you would like us to interview?
You probably have most artists I might provide, but a young new(ish) artist I would suggest is Kyle Butler.
What question would you ask him?
I would ask him about the fantastic exhibition he and others just staged in their downtown apartment. I would ask him if his meticulous style of drawing is by choice or if it reflects his personality. I would ask where he sees himself in 10 years, career wise, and city wise.
Really? I didn’t say enough? Okay, here’s some advice to young aspiring artists: There are three components to doing anything well. If you skip any of these you will never achieve what you are capable of. The first is depth of knowledge in your field. You have to learn everything you can, never dismiss anything offhand, and spend a lot of time thinking real hard. Read challenging material about art, talk to people smarter than you about art, listen to lectures about art, and see art every chance you get. The second is hard work. You have to work incredibly hard to do anything well. If you think art is kind of easy, you most likely suck at it and don’t even know it. Finally, time on task. The research says you need to do something for ten-thousand hours before you fully master it. I think that sounds about right. Buffalo has some amazing artists. But you won’t be one of them if you treat art like a hobby. I would add one bonus thing: have self-doubt; it’s good for you.
Click to enlarge any of the above images – in consecutive order:
Leda, Oil on Canvas, 2011, 56″ x 44″
Justice and Discipline, 2011, 60″ x 48″
Anath, Oil on Canvas, 2011, 56″ x 34″