#AnInterview – Get ready to fall in love with Jonathan Kent Adams. His favorite tools are his hands and his inspiration springs from religion, sexuality, and anatomy. From large scale installations to tiny works on paper, Jonathan Kent Adams presents his paintings in traditional and unorthodox ways. This presentation allows for viewers to imagine those who do not follow social constructions existing alongside those who do. Adams’ work places emphasis on the figure, but also explores communication through still life, video, found objects, and poetry. His work encourages self-discovery amid traditions that often deny the outsider’s existence.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Most of my work develops from a place of self-acceptance. As a child, I developed a relationship with God. I was curious and full of wonder. God was my escape. My safe place. I felt alone and isolated knowing that I was attracted to other guys growing up, so God was someone I told my secrets and still felt love and acceptance. I came out in college. I started to be rejected by other people who believed in God. The tension and uncertainty that came from this divide is often a place I go to make my work. Recently, I am drawn to the land. I am from Mississippi in America. The land is so beautiful here. The land has become like God to me. It provides an escape from the division that is growing politically over here. I am interested in how art can set the artist and others free even if it’s only for a few seconds. I am hoping that at the end of my life, people will see someone who struggled honestly with what it means to be human. An artist that inspires me is Lesley Dill. I love her installation, Faith and the Devil.
What would you say is the one big idea or force behind all of your artwork?
The force is God. I do work hard to try and improve my skills as a painter, but I am grateful for the gift to be able to create. I will use my body until it is done. I want people to see that I searched for something that was bigger than me.
You have exhibited multiple times. What was the best and worst experience you have made so far?
My best experience was in an abandoned house in Columbus, Mississippi. I was invited to show in a group exhibit called, Splinter. The show was for queer artists who were marginalized in Mississippi. I created an installation in one of the rooms. I made the room into a sanctuary for outcasts. I recreated the crucifix into a painting of a spirit that was alive and walking forward- rather than a dead white guy on a cross. I asked queer people to send me images of themselves, and I drew them behind the Christ I created. I loved that experience because I saw people moved by the show.
I think some artists would say that certain spaces are bad experiences because of the actual space. I am young and just starting out. I take almost every opportunity to show my work if my gut tells me to go for it. I have learned to say no too. I said yes to 2 shows within 2 weeks of each other. That was a bad decision. I was super stressed, and I felt one of the shows sacrificed because of it.
You love “unfinished moments and unconventional presentation”. Can you go more into this?
Yes, I have noticed that it is now a trend in the art world to work in these ways though. Many artists are working on the walls and going off the canvas. These ideas really interested me in undergrad. I was thinking about how to communicate feeling like an outsider to the larger Christian community that I grew up in. I started to work in the white space of the gallery walls as a way of saying that sometimes we limit our understanding to traditional ways and trying to break that. I cut out the figures in my paintings and allowed them to exist in the white space without any environment to support them. This to me was a way of freeing myself to exist in uncertainty. A new sacred space for me. These are not new or groundbreaking ideas, but they were my way of creating a space for myself. As far as the unfinished moments, I think of Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples that is hanging in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I think of Michelangelo’s Slave sculptures that were left in the marble. Those are examples of artwork that allowed the tension and uncertainty that I feel about God or existing as a queer person. The process of those pieces leaves the viewer with mystery, uncertainty, and ways to complete the artwork in their own minds. I am crazy about that idea. There is so much we do not know or understand. Art should reflect that. I have tried to use the moments in my work, but I think it will take a whole lifetime to make something that speaks in ways that Cézanne and Michelangelo speak to me.
How would you say your style developed? and do you see it still changing?
I think I answer some of this in the question above. Something I try to reject is the need to develop a style and get locked into that. I understand that galleries and curators like to see consistency in developing a theme or body of work. Instagram is all about this too. Perfectly curated people. I get that, but I am more interested in my own journey of creating in the moment. Something I love about Lady Gaga, Picasso, and David Bowie are the ways they recreate/recreated themselves. Laughing at myself for using that example, but I think I am an artist like that. We do not have to stay the same.
What are you working on at the moment? What would you like to do next?
I recently finished an exhibit, The Myth of The Beast. It was the first time I have used imagery besides the human body to communicate a theme. The paintings have sharper edges and areas that fall flat- so it seems somewhat forced or fake. I also relied on the landscape to be a repetition throughout the show. The show is about how I have grown into not letting the judgment of others define me. Like the land, you must find something in your life that can be your constant. Your God. I show that I can go places within my mind that is not bound to circumstance or the myths that we believe.
I have a few ideas for future work. America is extremely divided right now. I will probably move in a direction to answer some questions about that within my work. How did we get here? Where could we go?