Sculptor Mark Edward Adams has always had an affinity for animals. As artistic subjects, he says, animals “can be the ideal vehicles to convey the joys and tragedies of life.” Mark was the first artist to be featured on Art Pulse TV, and filming his segment was a particular pleasure for our executive producers David and Barbarella Fokos, not only for the glimpse Mark afforded of his process, but also for the sweet horses they got to meet at the Helen Woodward Animal Center.
See the segment featuring Mark just below, and then check out his Q&A with Barbarella, in which the artist shares what he’s been up to recently.
(Credits: Executive Producer, Barbarella Fokos; Director, David Fokos; Videography, Deejay Viloria; Editing, Deejay Viloria; Music, Summertime Instrumental by CDK, Goodbye War Hello Peace by teru)
BF: What are some of the highlights in your career since we filmed you?
MEA: The last four years since filming have been a blur. A few months after filming I was awarded “Beverly Hoyt Robertson Memorial Award” from the National Sculpture Society. This organization is the top sculpture group in the country and this specific award is given to the top sculptor under the age of 40. This award coincided with several features in national art magazines. After seven years of working in anonymity, my work was finally reaching a larger audience. I began to show my work in major galleries across the country such as Santa Fe, Dallas, Palm Desert, Jackson Hole, Sedona, Scottsdale, Austin, and Park City. I was on the road constantly to attend art events at these galleries. I also began to show my work in museum exhibitions including the Tampa Museum of Art, the Gilcrease Museum, Booth Western Art Museum, and Brookgreen Gardens. I am still finding my place in the art world. I never seemed to fit into a specific box. The modern art world often thought I was too representative and the representational world thought I was too modern. I am slowly managing to carve out a niche for myself that overlaps both worlds.
BF: In what ways has your work changed in the past few years?
MEA: As I traveled across the country and met thousands of people, I felt I had a greater understanding of the power of art. Many people carry their memories in art. A certain piece of art will bring out something in their past. I began to understand that art is much more about the viewer than a personal expression of the artist. I began to view art as a dialogue with the viewer. Your work of art is going to connect someone with their past. As a result of this realization, my work has become a lot more serious. There is no room for fluff or commercial gimmicks.
BF: Can you give an example of what you mean when you say your work has become a lot more serious?
MEA: The art is becoming more serious because I am looking at the bigger picture. There have been artists that seek to capture the beauty of a moment, like Monet or Renoir. Their paintings were wonderful, but they were never attempting to tackle themes such as the stages of life. Other artists such as Picasso, Gauguin, and Van Gogh made it their goal to use art as a vehicle for the human experience. Picasso, for example thought of himself as a shaman and that his painting connected people with what can best be described as the “sacred.” And Gaugin and Van Gogh had similar philosophies. I stopped trying to make things simply for the sake of beauty or laughter. I am now viewing art as a spiritual endeavor.
BF: Do you still volunteer with the Helen Woodward Animal Center?
MEA: Since I was traveling on the road so much, I could no longer consistently volunteer at the Helen Woodward Center. However I do believe that it is important to contribute to our community. I am an active member of San Diego Coastal Rotary Club. I also donate pieces for charity on a regular basis. One of my pieces was recently auctioned off in Santa Fe for a therapeutic horse riding program geared toward veterans.
BF: You recently became the lead organizer for the Southern California National Sculpture Society. Can you tell us more about the society and your role in it?
MEA: The National Sculpture Society is the largest and most prestigious sculpture group in the country. This non-profit was founded by some of the very top American sculptors 120 years ago. The society is based in New York and has various events and exhibits throughout the country. As an elected member of this group I felt it was lacking on the local level. I contacted the National Sculpture Society and offered to bring together all the sculptors in Southern California. They told me that this is an idea that had been in the works for many years, yet no one had offered to start a local community. Thus, I took on the task of organizing all the sculptors from Los Angeles to San Diego into a collective. I realized there is a thriving artistic community of sculptors in the region, but we are not organized into a group. The community has been growing rapidly and we have around 60 sculptors part of this group. We have been exhibiting our work in galleries, visiting studios, sponsoring symposiums, and connecting everyone via social media. The goal is to have Southern California knows as a great region for sculpture.
BF: You have some sculptures of big cats. Are you visiting them somewhere?
MEA: Big cats are wonderful animals to sculpt because they are emotive. They can be sleek and sophisticated and at the same time ferocious hunters. I have been sculpting the mountain lions at the San Diego Zoo for the last 5 years. The zoo is open late during the summer and the big cats are active right at dusk. I have spent many hours at the exhibit sculpting them. They are fascinating animals.
BF: Are all the big cats mountain lions? And are all the animals you depict American?
MEA: My big cats are originally based on mountain lions. But a sculpture of a realistic mountain lion is often awkward because then tend to have small heads versus their body. So I borrowed some panther qualities for my big cats. I am less concerned with an accurate depiction than the emotional impact. I also have chosen to sculpt American animals found in the Southwest. I believe that most art is highly influences by the environment. It all naturally flows together. I think that if I sculpted a zebra it would be awkward because it is not from my surroundings.
BF: Were horses always your favorite animal to sculpt? What are some others?
MEA: Horses are still my favorite animal to sculpt. But I like sculpting animals from life. Sculpting from life gives the work raw energy. I like sculpting any animals that I can see up close. I have sculpted among a herd of bison, the mountain lions at the zoo, and among a flock of ravens.
BF: In the segment, you talked about capturing emotion. What are some of the emotions you capture with different animals? Can you give some other examples of emotions you get from horses, and how that might compare to say, a bison or a big cat?
MEA: I think that animals are better subjects to show human emotion. All of the animals that I sculpt are metaphors the human experience. Each animal has a different energy and feeling. Horses are great because they have such a huge range of gestures that can depict anything from rage to tenderness. An animal like a bison is different. Bison are powerful animals, but difficult to show tenderness in a sculpture. The big cats have a sophistication that a lot of other animals lack. I first pick the emotion I am trying to create, then I choose the animal to sculpt.
BF: What are you working on now?
MEA: I have recently started a major project. I am calling it “Tomb Sculpture of the Ancient Kingdoms.” Many ancient cultures like those in China and Egypt buried their dead with beautiful sculpture of animals and figures. The idea is that these would come alive in the afterlife. And there is this underlying concept of transition from this world to the next. I am making a series of pieces based on this tomb sculpture. This series is about tackling the concept of death. It is a way to celebrate life.
BF: That sounds like a fascinating project. Any chance we can get a peek at some of the works in progress?
MEA: I have sculpted a least a dozen pieces so far for this project and I have kept only two of them. The first part of this series is going to focus on the transition from this life into the next one. There is imagery of war horse, ravens, boats, and design elements found in tombs. It is an ongoing process. I am not ready to start showing the work in public because it is always changing. I think in a few months I will have more of a story to tell.
BF: Where can people go to see your finished works?
MEA: I just wrapped up three recent shows and I have decided to take the rest of the year off from shows and exhibits focus on my new series. Once my new series is ready, I will be showing it off in galleries and museums all over the country. I think this project will take at least a year.
BF: What is your dream project?
MEA: My dream project is to put together an exhibit that could be in major museums such the Met and the Louvre. I understand it may sound a little crazy. But I think it is important to think big.