Pat Adams at Zabriskie Gallery

Pat Adams, Situation (2002), mixed media, 77″ x 77″; courtesy Zabriskie Gallery

* * *

Some day, an intrepid curator from one of our museums will organize a retrospective of paintings by Pat Adams. It won’t be soon, I’m afraid: As long as cultural institutions continue to celebrate contemporary artists who titillate or bore–and condescend either way–Ms. Adams will remain a marginal figure.

Her abstractions have nothing to offer those who chase the fleeting gratification of spectacle or strike the nihilist pose. The paintings, predicated on either the circle or the square, unfold deliberately, slower than slow. They’re also, in their own vexing way, immediate. Ms. Adams insists on material sensuality: She mixes shells, beads and sand with her oils and acrylics.

The metaphysical underpinnings of these dense and delicate pictures divulge themselves gradually. She illuminates what are often abstruse avenues of philosophical thought, yet doesn’t put a fine point on them. Her pictures are as particular as they are elusive, and she thrives on paradox.

The extremes her art encompasses would make one dizzy if she weren’t grounded by a stern and tender diligence. Her compositions are blessed with clarity, weight and solidity. You can’t imagine that they’ll budge. Yet they do-or, rather, they evolve. Whether it be an array of cosmological spheres or squares that ascend like the steps of a Mayan pyramid, Ms. Adams’ motifs are forever in the process of transformation. These paintings are verbs; they have titles like Give Rise To, Here Occurring, What Follows and Slow Start.

An unclassifiable artist, Ms. Adams deserves to be included in the fine American tradition of headstrong loners. (Think Ryder, Eakins, Dove and Hopper.) She’s also elemental enough that one could imagine her standing side by side with our most distant ancestors, painting bison on the cave wall. When that overdue retrospective finally comes around, New Yorkers will ask themselves where this wonderful artist has been all their lives.

(c) 2003 Mario Naves

Originally published in the May 18, 2003 edition of The New York Observer.

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