Art that runs the gamut between realism and abstraction
Story by Judi Martha Collins, photos courtesy of Lauren Adams
I’ve written lots of stories about artists. But never one about an artist whose abstract painting became a licensed bus wrap; nor one who, in the Chinese lunar “Year of the Water Rabbit,” whimsically took Brer Rabbit out of the briar patch and painted him wading in the lake; nor one who created “South of Symbolism,” an ongoing series of art works — now some 10+ years in the making — that refers to her own upbringing in the guise of a narrative about small, Southern towns steeped in mystery, magic and the unexplained.
Meet Lauren Adams, noted figurative and landscape painter whose work runs the gamut between contemporary realism and abstraction. She is also a noted exhibition juror; a sought after art lecturer and popular freelance studio art instructor. Her work is included in public and private collections throughout the Southeast.
Painting was her destiny
There was never any question that Lauren Adams was destined to become an artist. She credits her family — especially her mother who first observed her daughter could draw recognizable figures as soon as she could clutch a crayon and encouraged her precocious child’s natural affinity for art. During high school, Lauren received professional training and mentoring from artist Mrs. Ray Irwin, who also provided support and guidance that helped the teen find her own artistic voice.
Adam’s training continued at SCAD-Savannah where she attended on an art scholarship and earned a BFA in Commercial Illustration and later an MFA in painting from SCAD-Atlanta.
Today, Adams is an accomplished, award-winning artist who teaches beginning, intermediate and advanced classes in watercolor, acrylics, oils and multi-media at OCAF in Watkinsville, in her studio in Athens, at Spruill Art Center in Atlanta, and at local and regional artists guilds. She also offers private tutoring and conducts Zoom internet classes that can reach around the world.
Pushing outside the comfort zone
There is nothing “ordinary” about Lauren Adams’ teaching method. Beyond concentrating on improving students’ technique and process and increasing knowledge of materials, she shapes their learning experience through honest dialogue, humor, and frank discussion. “As in my own art, I want to inspire students to be perpetual learners, push them to step outside their comfort zone, and teach them to approach learning with a sense of investigation and experimentation — essentials to becoming a better artist,” says Adams. “My job is to discover what motivates a student, then give them support and confidence they need to progress and learn new skills while not discouraging or overly frustrating their efforts.
“My professional experience — coupled with being engaged in the contemporary art world and my local arts community — stimulates my creativity, brings a willingness to be flexible and humble, and allows my teaching practice to evolve and expand. That, in turn, fuels new ideas for my work and my classes. This continual evolution ensures my students get the best possible education I can bring.”
Judging versus teaching
About being a juror, Adams points out a difference in her approach to art. “When you are teaching someone how to do something, you start first with showing them how to use the tools, materials and techniques, then move on to conceptual aspects of the work. But the deciding difference that wins a juried competition happens in the reverse order.
“Many artists master technical painting skills, so that is expected ‘as a given’ in a juried exhibit. But as a juror, I’m looking first for the ‘story’ — the concept. What makes winning art stand out is a story that cannot be forgotten. It can be art that creates a mood, or captures an emotion, or tells a new story, or tells a familiar story in a whole new way. The exhibit artwork with the potential to win an award will be the one with a concept that draws me back again and again. Once that painting is identified, then I evaluate the technical quality of the work, and I expect it to be there.”
Behind her brush stroke
In her own work, Adams primarily uses acrylic, watercolor and oil, but she also uses collage/mixed media and printmaking, colored pencils, graphite and photography. See her work in the upcoming “SouthWorks National Juried Exhibition,” April 21 through June 2, 2023 at OCAF in Watkinsville. She is represented by SCAD Art Sales, which has an online site and storefront in Savannah, and by the Spruill Gallery in Atlanta. Visits to her studio are available by appointment.
Asked to comment on some of her artwork, Adams begins with the evocative painting: Lace Collar: “I painted ‘Lace Collar’ mysterious and dark in part to disguise the fact that it’s a self-portrait. I collect and use wigs and costumes on models in some of my paintings and wore those for ‘Lace Collar’ because my intent was not for the painting to be about me. I was just the model. Instead, the painting’s story is to express feelings: otherness, mystery, concealment, a sense of isolation, being different — feelings I experienced growing up. I think many artists hide behind their work in some way. I believe that keeps the work more relatable and universal. I use the narrative to that end. Ultimately, the artwork is not about me. It is about a story I am creating. As in that painting and in others, I sometimes use myself and my life as the framework for inspiration. All the paintings in the series “South of Symbolism,” stem from that inspiration.”
Painting portraits: people vs pets
About painting portraits, Adams flashes an amused grin.
“Painting portraits of animals is really no different than painting people in terms of process and materials. When painting from life, people find holding a pose tiring. And animals are still only when asleep! So, I usually work from photos and always ask for a number of different images. When possible, I do my own photography to help achieve accurate colors for skin and hair. Observing human or animal facial expressions gives me a sense of personality so I can capture their ‘essence’ which, in a portrait, is expressed mainly in the eyes and corners of the mouth. Capturing personality is the more challenging part of portrait painting — people or pets.
Painting the abstract
“When teaching abstraction, I distinguish between objective painting (reference to a subject) and non-objective painting (no reference subject — instead, painting is about the paint itself or applying the paint.
For my own paintings, I like to work with a subject but take liberties like combining more than one photo, working loosely and painterly, using references as inspiration to include my subject’s essence —but take leeways like arbitrary colors, lost shapes, or interesting visual and physical textures. Abstraction is still about formal elements of design (color, shape, texture, etc.). My thought process includes elements like emphasis, rhythm and pattern, unity, variety contrast, movement, and surprise. I feel good abstract art is the balance of basic principles: variations on a theme, repetition, surprise, sensational impact, rhythm, structural integrity, and joining pieces together. Creativity is something that is intrinsic.”
Whether painting, teaching, lecturing or judging other artists’ work, the little girl who instinctively clutched her crayon continues to evolve as the professional artist she was destined to be.
To contact Lauren Adams, go to her website, www.ladamsart.com
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This story appeared in Lakelife magazine, Volume 17, Issue 3 and is the property of Smith Communications, Inc. No portions of the story or photos may be copied or used without written consent from the publisher.