As a lover of black & white photography and paintings, it’s no wonder why Adam Vinson is one of my favorite artists. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview this genius for Pastimes’ next Artist Interview Blog. His attention to detail is remarkable. It is especially evident in his distorted black and white paintings of vintage photographs (my favorite series of his!).
Vinson studied at Luzerne Co. Community College, Anthony Waichulis Studio, and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He is represented by Meyer Gallery and Sloane Merrill Gallery and has affiliation with Arcadia Contemporary. I hope you find this interview insightful and inspiring!
Q & A – Adam Vinson
Q1. What is your style of painting referred to? For our art students, would you please describe what this style means or represents?
A1. I have spent the majority of my artistic journey exploring the possibilities of trompe l’oeil. When not painting within the parameters of trompe l’oeil (still life, portraiture), others have referred to my work as hyper- and photo-realism. I have never personally felt comfortable with these terms because they fall within a particular niche in art history, and I feel they set a limit of expectation to the potential direction of whatever aesthetic may interest me as I develop.
Trompe l’oeil had certainly been a driving force in setting the groundwork for my studies and direction for the past seventeen years. The challenge and illusion were very alluring to me. I was driven to take it to places others had not, but eventually, I found myself frankly bored and yearning for more. Something less “limiting” and more creatively free-flowing.
As far as my current “direction”, I can’t say I have even thought about what or how to label it. It just is and I’m comfortable with that for now. There is this umbrella term that representational painters like to throw around for the sake of convenience, and it also makes for a nice hashtag, called “Contemporary Realism”, but that’s so vague and broad a term. I mean, anyone alive and producing pictures in paint at least based in representationalism falls under this description.
Q2. Much of your recent work features distorted black and white paintings of vintage photographs. What is the story or inspiration behind your choice of subject matter?
A2. As a trompe l’oeil painter, much of my work centered around the reproduction of old photographs painted at life-size and “attached” to a vertical “surface” usually with the illusion of tape or thumb tacks or whatnot keeping them in place, and that would often be a springboard to inform the progression and content of the rest of the painting. I loved the ambiguous narrative captured within these little time capsules and so as I found myself stepping further away from trompe l’oeil, it seemed natural for me to take this one part of what I had been doing for so long and use it as a familiar source to inspire a less-familiar approach.
Q3. Our students are interested in the latest tools of the trade. May I please inquire your preference for paints, brushes, and canvas boards? What brands and types of tools work best for you? Do you ever make your own paint or have custom pigments made to order for any of your projects? Do you finish with a varnish or leave as is?
A3. I do not endorse any particular brand of brush, paint, solvent, varnish, or any other accoutrement of the painter. These are all very personal choices best left to the craftsman to experiment with and come to their own conclusions. The power of the possibilities within the materials used has nothing to do with the success of seasoned painters and the brands they choose or, by way of endorsement, recommend. It has everything to do with keeping one’s mind open to the possibilities of the materials and how they correspond with the creator’s technical idiosyncrasies.
Now, I understand there are elements such as conservation to consider, but this is for another topic. I can say that personally, there are a few staples that I have worked with and found my own success without failure. I have always primarily painted on panels (masonite or hardboard;MDF, and birch) prepared with an acrylic gesso. I have used Maroger medium off and on throughout my career and I have never settled on one particular brand of oil paint. Rather, I have found pigments that I prefer and use loyally from Winsor & Newton, Old Holland, Williamsburg, and Holbein paint companies. But I have also ground my own pigments from time to time. I was once given a set of oil tubes produced by Winsor & Newton, but they were for a Japanese market. I can’t read Japanese and though I could probably guess the pigments in each tube, I was not sure of the quality of the content, but that became interesting to me — the “not knowing” of what it was became exciting and in a way, liberating. I have used all manner of varnish from damar to synthetics (pick your brand) and retouches, and even just oiling out with a medium to reactivate the value and color of a sunken painting.
Painting is different for everyone and as such everyone should approach their materials based on what they desire and expect to get out of them. But my best advice is to think outside the box. Think about what it is we’re doing. We’re applying powdered colors suspended in oil to a surface with hair tied to a stick. How can we achieve the same basic outcome without following the same basic steps?
Q4. At what age did you realize you were an art spirit?
A4. I don’t know. I have never thought about it.
Q5. Did anyone try to talk you out of fulfilling your dream as an artist? If so, how did you handle it?
A5. Thankfully, no. Although, if someone had, I probably would not have listened. I had a close mentor once discourage me from continuing my education in another institution. Although I took the advice under serious consideration, I ultimately didn’t adhere to it. It’s easy to allow the opinions of others to influence your actions or your direction, whether it’s related to your work or just your life in general. But it’s so important to use our instincts, and we all have that ability to find the answers within ourselves if we listen closely and quietly.
Q6. How did Meyer Gallery and you become acquainted? Did you seek them out or did they find you?
A6. The gallery invited me to participate in a group exhibition in 2009. A couple years later, the director called me and asked if I would like to be represented by them. This was at a time when my representation was shifting and I had no presence on the West Coast or the west in general, so it was good timing.
A7. Aside from that group show in 2009, I have not had a considerable amount of work at one time at Meyer. Our relationship has mostly been on a painting-to-painting basis. That being stated, they do offer my work exposure to a savvy clientele based in a very art-friendly market.
I have known and worked with Ali at Sloane Merrill Gallery for a decade now since she had been the director at Principle Gallery. I consider her a friend more than a business partner, and we share many of the same ideas about the importance of art in an ever-changing digital and technologically-driven world. So, aside from the obvious tasks and responsibilities (client relationships, publicity, media), Sloane Merrill Gallery is a great respite for me on an intellectual and philosophical level.
A gallery can be way more than a place to show one’s work. In this modern world, it’s a place to foster real relationships with a common interest in something that is way more magical than social networking, where I like to say we are “all alone, together”. And I feel there is an undercurrent in the gallery scene in which many artists and I suppose gallerists alike, consider it to be an us vs. them mentality. It breeds paranoia and distrust. If you as an artist choose to take the gallery route, I think it’s very important that when you find someone enthusiastic about what you’re doing beyond the mere ability to potentially make a buck, whether or not they can make you “famous”, it is in everyone’s best interest to enrich that relationship. Again, trust your instinct on this.
Q8. Art can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, my boss’ art school partners with CoachArt to provide free art classes for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like my readers to learn more about?
A8. In Philadelphia, we have a program called Mural Arts, which is the nation’s largest public art program. It not only brings art to the diverse neighborhoods and peoples of the city, who might otherwise not have exposure to it, it also sponsors art education and project opportunities for children, adults and those who are incarcerated. Read more about Mural Arts Philadelphia at www.muralarts.org.
In closing, do you have a favorite quote, mantra or process that you find inspiring or helpful when faced with a creative block, that you would like to share with our readers?
It’s funny you should ask because I literally just came up against this recently. I never really have a creative block, per se. There is just way too much to paint. The block often comes during the process and when I get stumped for how to proceed, the answer most often comes down to putting my ego on the back burner and destroying what I’ve done to at least clear the psychological block that prevents me from progressing on a painting.
This takes practice to be okay with the destruction for the betterment of the work no matter how much time I’ve put into it. I like to think of Tibetan Buddhist monks who take so much time, care and attention to detail to create a sand mandala only to destroy it. That is a beautiful metaphor for life and material detachment. You are the work, not the sum of the materials you’ve used to interpret it. Your work may show the scars, but that only adds to the beauty of its soul in the end.
Thank you so much for your gracious time in sharing your story and inspiring thoughts with our readers. It was a privilege to host your interview on our blog.
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