Bruce Adams’ Divine Beauty at Starlight Studio and Gallery
by J. Tim Raymond
In a specially constructed exhibition space on the second floor above the Starlight Studio and Gallery (not incidentially celebrating its five-year anniversary), Buffalo educator, writer, and painter Bruce Adams presents his continuing ruminations of a “reformed Catholic,” Divine Beauty, a series of painted portraits examining the contravening spiritual/secular inversion from a cultural iconography of Biblical ethic to gilded bar-code materialism.
Adam’s clerical dissertation on glamour-porn is part of Beyond/In Western New York, the biannual cornucopia of visual arts spread all over Buffalo area cultural venues. Adams works in a kind of stylized realism referencing in this instance, advertizing illustration, medieval and Renaissance art, and especially a current preoccupation with Pop/Baroque parodies of fashion.
In the course of his long career, Adams has explored numerous thematic series of painting projects conceptually based—context-referencing artwork that is often polemical in some psycho-social-political way that is separate from but contingent on the actual representation presented for viewing. His work is particularly recognizable in format: a flattened picture plane where negative space functions as an abstract counterpoint to figuration. He uses a limited palette and his brushwork is intentionally brusk and graphically lush.
In Divine Beauty, Adams has replaced the saints and sinners of his catechismal youth with young men and women who signal consumer consciousness and product placement. His figurative forms are drawn from magazine advertisements—the lustrous, libidinous illusions proffering bottled cosmetics and underwear as vessels of desire. Given their languid stance, distant stares, zero-valence countenance—the air-brushed fatuity, the posed mock-heroic postures of his subjects—they nevertheless present a complexicity of impressions ranging from pseudo-seductive to uber-absurd. But the predominant icon, like a codpiece reliquary, is designer underwear. These studio-lit lads of lassitude strut their packages like Kevlar vestments.
Adams is mining the near obvious, always a delicate balance for an artist. His art teases out layers of significance, probing the comic irony of modern manners, the poverty of the soul in contemporary society, the pernicious effects of the credit-card mentality, the subtext of homoeroticism in modern figurative painting (such as in the work of Marsden Hartley), its impact on fashion photography in the 1930s, and of course its antecedent historical content in 15th-century religious art picturing the six-pack abs of the saints of martyrdom.
But there are hints of a darker vision. His portraits of flawless fashionistas paired with omniscient Black Hawk helicopters, hovering like gadflies in the ongoing calamity of the Middle East, and the sinister, snaking plumes of oil fire smoke skirt a chilling reality—young people are dying in wartime, sometimes in dark glasses and designer briefs. Heaven help them.
—j. tim raymond