Mel Adamson  


Art Week May 2000

Mel Adamson and Lucy Snow at the Berkeley Art Center

Two Bay Area artists, Mel Adamson and Lucy Snow, were chosen for a recent exhibition at the Berkeley Art Center, curated by Sarah Hodgson. Adamson's works included eight of her most recent figurative and domestic interior paintings, and Snow created an environmental installation that incorporated works in paper presented in rectangular view boxes that passersby looked down into and upon, with light shining from below, creating the intriguing visual effect of luminescence and translucence at play upon the constructed, twisted and stitched paper forms and their orgaic shapes. Both artists invest similar sensitivities, sentiments, environmental concerns and an acute sense of the personal within their exhibited works. These attributes are derived from a careful and caring way of seeing that almost caresses the subjects and objects in their artistic rendering, a treatment that is at once subtle and ineffable but direct and immediate.

Adamson began her current series of paintings in 1996 in response to significant personal changes in her life: having a child and moving her studio in back of her home. These events caused her to examine the commonplace, the immediate world of family and home around her, which she painted from photographs of moments captured in her domestic and private family life and household surroundings. These paintings are very much in the vein of Dutch genre paintings with distant references to Vermeer and Van Eyck, except that Adamson's palette is reductive, emphasizing light and shade and an atmospheric setting. The mood of the moment is everything, captured and held but vibrant with possibility and the unfulfilled, as details, even in the features of the figures, are blurred and undefined. Message, Passing and The Cut are paintings from this period. Message shows a figure standing at a hallway desk, reading, writing a message or turning the pages of a notebook, with a small pictorial window visible in the background which is blurred and indefinite, creating not so much a sense of perspective and depth as a region of space and composition. The view is unimportant; the light and shadows falling on the figure and the interior are primary. Passing presents a male father figure standing at a circular dining room table while a child in the foreground forever "passes" to the right, caught in an instant, burdened with time unpassing, where the composition requires the room also to participate, as the line of the far wall crosses and blurs the head of the child in what is really an awkward arrangement.

The most recent paintings in this series have significant "laden" archaic titles, like He That Regardeth the Clouds; She That Observeth the Wind; Bequest; Turn and The Cistern Contains, The Fountain Overflows. The direction of meaning in these paintings is toward the symbolic, where the stilled and static moment is full of content and significance. For instance, Bequest shows a male father figure tossing a globe of the earth to a young girl, presumably his daughter, who has already missed the "catch", as the world appears to have already passed through her hands. This is the pessimistic view. But if one has hope, the kinesthetic effect of the action is that if the child is quick and clever, she can bend her knees and clutch the earth to her bosom or belly to save it. He That Regardeth The Clouds treats the same subjects and uses the same figures: a father figure who stands regarding his daughter who holds a globe in her hands. The Cistern Contains, The Fountain Overflows is on of my favorite paintings in this show, almost a domestic haiku, in which a kitchen sink overflows with wather coming both from the faucet and also from a filtered water nozzle. Light shines down from above, an outside heavenly source, illuminating the water in the sink and focusing the captured moment of potential domestic disaster thwarted by artistic design. These objects and images are of primary concern for Adamson, for they represent to her ideas that "relate to our electronically sped up lives, our consumption of natural resources, and the beauty and fragility in nature that we witness everyday."

These two talented artists who work in such different media present a concerted and unified view of how art can be used to alter our sensibility and change our perceived and received ideas about life. On the one hand, art may record a moment, mood and emotion that might have passed and been forever changed. On the other, art is as dynamic as life itself, full of change and movement, enduring and endearing without stasis or cause.

— Frank Cebulski, Contributing Editor, Artweek