Colin Hambrook caught up with the opening of the ‘goose’ and offers his impressions of Jon Adams retrospective on show at Pallant House Gallery from 13 October – 22 November 2009
Jon Adams retrospective at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, reads like a 'How to Guide'. Specifically, the exhibition takes you through the artists' life story, giving valuable clues on how Jon eventually became an artist. After initially making the decision that was what he wanted to be at the age of six. It is a wonderful resource for anyone contemplating making the artists' journey and I would recommend it as a creative teaching tool.
The Goose on the Hill is meticulously considered as well as being a lot of fun. The process of sifting through your life experience is an important one for any artist looking at how to make their work unique and relevant in a way that can touch people and convey insight.
Jon Adams has taken his love of geology and used it as a metaphor for creating a timeline which shows the shifting sediment of thought and artistic process leading to the current point in his career as an emerging artist.
The gallery space which holds the exhibition is crammed with a thousand objects, photos, artworks, memorabilia etc.
The exhibition offers a chronological commentary on the various stages of the artists' life. He provides a humorous explanation, with a play on a name for each stage giving a pretend geological reference, which is placed within a map of strata, alongside the introduction.
At the beginning are a range of old photos, school reports, fossils and other objects which date from the artists' childhood in Kent. The ancient name for Kent is Cantia - thus he refers to this stage as the Cantian period.
As you move around the exhibition you witness episodes from the artists' career as an illustrator and graphic artist. You see references to artists who have influenced Adams' journey; and finally the beginnings of his thought processes in turning his immense drawing, painting and digital skills into meaningful artworks which convey deeper layers of emotional expression as an Outsider artist.
In the centre of the gallery space are some of the objects, and a rolling slideshow of much of the work Adams has made as a result of various artistic commissions; notably his ArtPlus Award which set him on his expedition as artist in residence on Southern Railway.
The Alternative Maps shown in sequence are beautiful graphic representations of the interactions the artist had on his rail excursions. They read like a list of poetic ideas made at random by a piece of word-recognition software.
Much of the work is about the experience of living with dyslexia – but the whole process is annotated with an aspergers’ mindset. What Adams has done here is to show the beauty that underlies the need to create order from chaos. In one sense the Goose on the Hill is inviting the viewer to find the asperger in themselves – and suggests that that experience of the world is a part of everyone in varying degrees.
What inspires me most about this show, though, is the precision with which it lays out the steps you need to take in order to think of yourself as being an artist – something which most art schools rarely if ever, teach. Through painstakingly reaching through the substrata of his own life, Jon Adams chases the ‘goose’ (who turns up at several points) – and shows clearly and playfully how you break through to new and newer ideas which define your artistic vision.
The one problem with this show, for me, was having so many objects crammed into such a small space, under very low lighting. Yes, the show cleverly recreates the atmosphere of somewhere like The Natural History Museum – in line with its geological reference points. But, it makes it incredibly difficult to access. There are thousands of words amongst hundreds of images, to take in to understand the stories being told and the intention behind those stories.
I’d love to see to see this show recreated as a digital exhibition that you could access through audio, as well as visually. It would be a ‘How to do Jon Adams’ guide that could give lots of useful hints on how to make Art which resonates with ideas taken from your own experience of life.