Well Known Pacifically is the third and final installment of a series of exhibitions by Antonio Adams, currently on display at Thundersky Gallery. Although I did not see the earlier shows, which began in 2012, I was deeply touched by Adams’ raw, playful and deeply thoughtful  exhibition of paintings, drawings and sculpture and the larger concept that surrounds it.

I walked into Antonio Adams’ show not really knowing what to expect. The gallery was empty and quiet but the walls were buzzing with color. The floor was lined with aisles of red carpet and velvet rope, just like at a glamorous theater opening. The walls exploded with large graphic paintings all around me. Although my eyes wanted to dart around the room from colorful painting to painting, a music stand holding a lime green three ring binder greeted me before I could. The notebook seemed to want to be flipped through. I put my desire to go straight for the paintings aside and opened it up. It became clear this notebook would set the scene for the entire show.

The binder led me through an intimate collection of lists, drawings, diagrams and notes. Antonio introduced himself and explained how he got here. It reveals that this body of work has been 17 years in the making. Adams is the Artist in Residence at Thunder Sky Gallery and one of the core group members who launched Visionaries + Voices (a local non-profit which provides artistic, cultural, and professional opportunities for artists with disabilities.)  His voice is clear and knowing. This is an artist who doesn’t apologize for who he is. Adams lays out rules for the show, which sets the tone for the entire exhibition.

Rules for “Well Known Pacifically”

Adams immediately draws his viewer in with this compilation of documents. We see evidence of his past projects and lists of his friends and colleagues whom he admires and refers to as ‘Mutual Celebrities’’. We come across a cast of characters, Adams himself as the lead. He calls himself “Art Thing”. In the binder the three exhibitions are laid out “Unrealized & Unforeseen” (2012), “Outcast from Hollywood” (2014) and now “Well-Known Pacifically” (2016).

Coming to the end of the notebook,  I’m ready to dive in head first to the world Adams has created. I want to know more. The left wall is lined with large paintings. Each canvas is filled with faces- cartoonish, bright, and confident. I don’t see a hint of hesitation in his process. The paintings focus on a main figure in the foreground- Antonio himself, adorned in an intricate costume and headdress. He reigns over the dozens of faces below him. All eyes are on the figure as he moves across the wall in pictures. He is adored and respected, he reigns fairly but has high moral expectations for his subjects. As I move closer to each painting I begin to appreciate their complexity. Each canvas is covered entirely in color and pattern. It is clear each element of the works hold meaning and thought.

Three large works from Well Known Pacifically. ‘Unrealized + Unforseen’, ‘Outcast from Hollywood’ + ‘Well-Known Pacifically’

Borders throughout the works contain lines of text. Some list names such as Bill Cosby, Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson, Justin Bieber and Charlie Sheen. These celebrities have been rejected by Adams, The Master Art Thing; they are not numbered among his ‘Mutual Celebrities’. Other lines announce his decrees, such as “The artist leader Antonio Adams as Art Thing will end Donald Trump’s hope & ruthless behavior.” The message is clear in these works; it’s rule #1 on the list, “No Negative People”.

Outcast from Hollywood, Antonio Adams

Some of the paintings feature rigid, solider like characters. In one picture they flank the perimeter and keep onlookers out. Their appearance lives somewhere between Abraham Lincoln and the Nutcracker. The same figures appear in the form of sculpture, all around the gallery. Dozens of them, protecting the space Adams has created. They are all painted differently, some with prominent six pack abs, or distinctive items of clothing. They are covered in symbols and bear inscriptions on the bases. They are called the “Guardian Protectors”.

“Guardian Protectors”

The back wall is a small installation of photographs, framed and pinned up to the wall. These depict the celebrities of Adams’ kingdom. The photos were taken at the previous exhibition openings and each tells their own story of his real life friendships. The images ground the entire exhibition bring the viewer back to reality. Adams becomes a real person again, not just the larger than life persona in his work. The viewer is given a moment to realize that, like all of us, the artist’s reality lies somewhere between the dreams he has created and the real relationships he has in his community.

Wall installation of photographs

Along the right wall is another series of three paintings. This time united in a distinctive color palette- green, blue and yellow. They show one figure in a series of portraits. This is Adams’ brother, Deion, who passed away in 2014. Deion is made into a celebrity here. He is clearly the most important mutual celebrity in the show, beyond Adams himself. In his portraits he looks like an elegant star, casually holding a cigarette or making a hand gesture. He smiles and looks inquisitively at the viewer. Adams has covered these portraits with blocks of color. The swaths cover Deion’s face in different ways, giving him a new characterization in each work.

“Portrait Painting of Deion”

Smaller drawings in marker hang in the adjoining hallway. They show snapshots from Deion’s life and the aftermath of his death. In one he is seen holding his new born daughter warmly. In another Deion is shown in his open casket. His skin is green and there are pictures of his family taped inside. Above Deion’s head is a small teary eyed sad face. It says “Antonio Adams is sad”. These works are heartbreaking. It felt like Adams’ was standing beside me while I viewed them. It felt like I was watching Adams experience this pain. It was deeply moving to be welcomed into someone’s grief so openly.

“Portrait Drawing of Deion”

The remainder of the gallery wall space, even into the bathroom, is covered with paintings and drawings. Adams’ mind must constantly be teaming with ideas. Scenes of ‘mutual celebrities’ and portraits of family line the walls. They are all characterized by Adams’ distinct style and bright color palette.

Antonio Adams’ Well-Known Pacifically is a beautiful conclusion to this trilogy of exhibitions. Thoughtful and thought provoking, Adams’ has invited his viewer to climb inside a world of his making. Ruled strictly by the guidelines Adams’ sets out, Well Known Pacifically creates a space in which the people who are admired are loved not for their looks or wealth but their moral compass and capacity for friendship. Adams’ asks viewers to reevaluate who we lift up in our society. He envisions a reality in which we each make our own ‘mutual celebrities’ of the important people in our lives. I hope to have another opportunity to visit this world with Adams in the future.




-Chelsea Borgman is an artist and writer in Cincinnati Ohio. She runs the C-LINK Gallery at Brazee Street Studios.

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