Borderland, 2015, oil on canvas over panel (2), 60″ x 144″
Lisa Adams’ Fictitious Worlds @ CB1 Gallery and College of the Canyons Art Gallery
By Lita Barrie
March 22, 2017
Lisa Adams’ idiosyncratic paintings are interior monologues. Her paintings are a hybrid of representation and abstraction, landscape and still life, surrealist and dystopian imagery that blur so many genre lines, they defy categorization. Adams’ paintings play with anomalies that are disturbing, eccentric, and quirky – rather like Tim Burton’s movies. Her paintings are fictitious worlds built from disjointed fragments that evoke her own bewilderment in a world that is falling apart.
Adams is fascinated by unexpected things she discovers around her – in downtown L.A. , nature walks, or on the internet – that she projects into images of fictitious worlds where everything is out-of-step and a bit skewed. Her imaginary constructs are inspired by Italo Calvino’s short stories in Invisible Cities recounting Marco Polo’s purported journeys to imagined cities. Like Calvino’s prose, Adams’ paintings are poetically constructed explorations of imaginary travels which represent psychological states.
A two year survey of Adams’ recent paintings at College of the Canyons Art Gallery together with an exhibition of small works at CB1 Gallery provide an opportunity to see how Adams has created her own lexicon out of her leitmotifs. Each painting is a discombobulated world unto itself – a fictitious construct without an imposed narrative. Seen together each painting becomes a vignette from a continuing vision of an unpropitious universe Adams has conjured from many fictitious places she has travelled in her imagination – like an inter-galactic explorer on a quest.
In Adams’ fictitious worlds unexpected beauty appears in unlikely places. The singular beauty of a solitary flower ( a daisy or amaryllis lily) appear in bereft imaginary landscapes and cityscapes. Mysterious reflections of plants appear against the background of burning skies. Improbable architectural structures appear neglected and decaying covered in graffiti or overgrown with weeds. In Adams’ melancholic fictitious worlds filled with poverty or pollution these singular glimpses of natural beauty are a signifier of hope amidst despair.
Nothing is quite what it appears to be in Adams’ fictitious worlds – leaving the viewer to use their own imagination. Adams creates puzzles the viewer must decipher to discover “what is off ” in each picture of a disjointed world. These paintings are often what Adams calls “polar worlds crushed together in the same place” which she says is “almost like the edge of madness.”
Adams’ paintings are often situated at the land’s end where the borders between land, sea and sky are unclear. In her monumental Borderland ( 2015) an observer ( based on a photograph of Jayme Odgers) looks through binoculars into a post-apocalyptic background but we do not know what he is searching for. The polluted sky is orange and the sun is black. A wall made from river stones ( typically seen in early settlements near foothills in East L.A) disappears into the distance suggesting that everything is falling apart. A beam of light from an unknown source recalls a helicopter searching for danger. Her swan decoy is a startling anomaly because swans usually signify idyllic scenes in fresh water lakes and streams. But this is a kitsch battered decoy out of place at the world’s end. Adams’ says “everything we know about the world has gone wrong.” But Adams still takes an opportunity to accentuate the abstract qualities of dripping paint on a gray water tank from a paint gun. Adams combines different painting styles to make her voluminous feelings of melancholy, more tangible.
The sky is also on fire in Caput Mortuum (2014) and shows three moons and an improbable structure based on a kit home, surrounded by abstract gray ashes. Adams often creates fantasy structures based on her hand-made maquettes and computer generated images of improbable architecture – which are leitmotifs in her lexicon. In Land’s End (2014) she uses the silhouette of her hand – made windmill maquette which she flattens, to suggest a world that has been washed away at the edge of land and water.
I Can’t Help Myself, 2017, oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″
Petrichor, at CB1 Gallery refers to the atmospheric scent of the first rain after a drought. This intimate exhibition features a group of small oil paintings with her recurrent motifs of improbable structures, graffiti, overgrown weeds and bright flowers in unlikely places.
In these scaled down paintings Adams’ signature palette of pinks, yellows, turquoises, and blood-oranges are more jewel-like.The ominous beauty of Nimiety (2016) is created by a polluted red overflow streaming from a disused wooden testing box perched on a pole, in a play on the dangers of excess (suggested by the title). Toffle’s House ( 2017) is inspired by a children’s book about a shy hermit who sought comfort. Adams re-imagines his house caught between a turbulent sea and stormy sky with a weather balloon that cannot protect his shelter from danger.
Adams’ uses color and composition as her main visual vocabulary: rendering, scribbling, blending, and bending to move paint in different directions. Like her earlier large paintings these small paintings evoke a sense of impending doom, by suggesting that there is more outside the picture – like a cliff hanger in a movie trailer that creates suspense by gesturing toward what is yet to come. Adams’ paintings are always left unfinished because they are continuous interior monologues about a world that makes no sense.
In I Can’t Help Myself ( 2017) Adams reveals herself in her first self-portrait, spewing vitriolic rage like petroleum. The profile view serves the same compositional role as her fantasy architectural structures – but now she brings herself into the picture. A yellow daisy appears behind her against an unnatural pink sky, as a last sign of hope amidst the anguish. Like Llyn Foulkes, she foresees the danger of environmental destruction and poverty. In the Trump era with the momentous Resistance Movement, Adams’ prophetic work has a bellwether quality.
The Dark Bob concludes, “ her idiosyncratic art isn’t as easily honored or even sold as much as the trendier abstractions going on right now. But she’s doomed to be a real artist – someone who is skillfully visualizing her insanity. That is what ends up being the most beautiful and meaningful kind of art.”