Derrick Adams kicks off Nashville's Artville fair with Black collage artists' talk

Artist Derrick Adams, right, is seen with Artville co-founder Samantha Saturn and her husband, Steve Kravitz, in the Live Nation offices in Nashville for the festival. Photo by Adam Schrader/UPI
1 of 3 | Artist Derrick Adams, right, is seen with Artville co-founder Samantha Saturn and her husband, Steve Kravitz, in the Live Nation offices in Nashville for the festival. Photo by Adam Schrader/UPI

NASHVILLE, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Derrick Adams kicked off Nashville's first Artville fair, held in the city's blossoming Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood, with a moderated artist's talk about his practice and Black expression in collage and contemporary art.

The talk was moderated by Katie Delmez, the senior curator at the Frist Museum in Nashville who organized an exhibit on Black collage currently on view featuring 80 collage and collage-informed works by 52 artists. Adams has a piece exhibited in that show.


Adams, who humbly shrugs off his rock star status in the art world, recently debuted his first show with Gagosian and has works in the collections of prestigious institutions like the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

"In 2009, I started to really dig into collage work. It really came out of this desire to think about sculpture and performance because that's where I started as an artist," Adams said in the art talk Friday.


"I liked the physical process of sculptural work I felt was very physical and very involved, and performance because of the layering of information I was really interested in."

Adams is perhaps best known for his collage work and paintings informed by the practice of collage but said "painting was not my first go-to."

"Collage, when first thought about it, I hated it. Because I was looking at all collage happening in the world and history and felt like there was nothing else to be said that needs to be said at this point. So I had to think of ways to be excited about it," Adams said.

"Thinking about collage as a physical action drew me into making collage because I felt that the thought process of placement and strategy -- that I also felt was the same making a sculpture or an installation -- you have to be aware of so many parts about being expressive."

Adams graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1996 and went on to get his MFA from Columbia University in 2003. His dive into collage also came about because he was losing his school-provided studio and decided he needed to move from working with three-dimensional art to two-dimensional.


"I realized after I finished school that I had to get a U-Haul and put my stuff in storage, so I started to think about 'how do you make aspects of sculpture on a flat surface?'" Adams said.

He said he went into a dollar store 2009 and saw vinyl patterns with different wood grain and surfaces that appeared to be three-dimensional.

"And that was the beginning of where I am now as an artist," Adams said.

"From there it started building up, working with geometric form. I had been using geometric form in my sculpture so I started to reimagine the portraits and elements of my work that related to sculpture or African sculpture I was using as a reference."

Delmez then directed the conversation to Adams' Floater series -- a body of work started in 2015 with now more than 100 pieces focused on portraying the Black figure in a space.

"Also, in my studio as an artist after graduating school, I started to think about what an artist studio really represents. I wanted to be excited about what I was making in my studio regardless of what was happening in the world to Black people," Adams said.


"I had the ability to create the world I want to exist within in my studio. So the Floater series came out of the desire to create a sanctuary of possibilities within my practice."

Adams is best known for making art that expresses happiness and optimism about Black life. He said this motif was inspired by his viewing of lesser-known pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King on vacation in Jamaica.

"They were in the pool relaxing," Adams said. "Also pictures of Malcom X swimming with trunks on that I had to really search for and go to archive places to look at because they weren't brought to the surface. These are images you really had to dig for -- unlike pictures of Black turmoil and trauma."

Adams said, "Black culture has been around long enough for people not to give the 101 lesson on the Black experience. Even trying to explain the reason I wanted to make the Floater series, I felt was such an absurd thing."

Delmez further wrote about Black collage in a guide to the show she curated.


"This intergenerational group of artists is building on a technique that has roots in European and American traditions. Collage has been used by canonical figures from Pablo Picasso and Hannah Höch to Robert Rauschenberg and, of paramount importance for this project, Romare Bearden, who is considered the father of African American collage," Delmez wrote.

"The artists gather pieces of paper, fabric, and other, often salvaged, materials to create works that express the endless possibilities of Black-constructed narratives despite the fragmentation of our times. For some of the artists, collage is their signature art-making strategy, while for others, it represents a branch or chapter in their wider practice."

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