Artist Derrick Adams on Surveying His Career and Supporting Young Creatives

From "Black White and Brown," on view at Primary Projects.
From "Black White and Brown," on view at Primary Projects. Courtesy of Primary Projects
Derrick Adams' "Black White and Brown" has taken over the space at Primary Projects in an arresting patchwork of its title colors. Black-and-white patterns work as a structure through which shades of brown move and disrupt. Walking through the exhibit, the audience can also traverse the artist's mind.

"The things that I’m thinking of as an artist seeped into the space in a lot of ways," Adams says. "I wanted people to walk around in the space and feel that there's no beginning and end to the exhibition — it's a continuation of ideas of process and representations of performance."

Adams has long been compelling viewers through work that examines and challenges means of representation across many mediums. In 18 years, he has accomplished several series of paintings, video and performance art, and photography projects. As somewhat of a reflection on past endeavors, the Primary Projects show leaves room for viewers to make connections that might otherwise be lost.

"This exhibition was trying to compartmentalize my brain activity," Adams explains. "This was the first time I tried to include all these different things together that were made not necessarily to be together but, because I am the conduit, they related in a lot of ways. They needed a space to occupy to make those connections."

Outside of contextualizing and transforming his work, Adams has been making connections with emerging artists as well. He's been a master teacher for the National YoungArts Foundation for almost five years, putting him in contact with high-school-aged students working in multiple artistic disciplines. On view at the National YoungArts Foundation is "Imagination Land: Fantastical Narrative," a show he curated with pieces by students he's worked with through YoungArts.

A veteran of the Art Basel frenzy, Adams expresses a bit of trepidation about the idea of the show. "Sometimes it can be a little too much," he says, "but the saving grace of this exhibition is the mission of YoungArts and their endeavor to secure artists at a very young age with artists who are more established and who are interested in supporting the next generation."

The 11 young artists exhibited in "Imagination Land" are recent alumni of YoungArts. Adams points out that many of them might not be seriously considering a career in the arts, but the feasibility of that idea only grows through the support of organizations such as YoungArts. Their programs create community between established and emerging artists, as well as among the young makers themselves. This association becomes more important as they begin to evolve the concerns of an older generations of artists.
click to enlarge
Sebastian Ruiz's Digi Tailoring Diagrams, part of "Imagination Land: Fantastical Narrative" at YoungArts.
Photo by Jason Koerner
"The show that's at YoungArts is a selection of a lot of the younger participants who make works that are somehow related to performative actions and sculpture and video — a lot of different things that I also make myself," Adams says. "The technology at their fingertips is also a part of my language; it's an ongoing exchange of history and generational concerns just in this space that we're in as creative people. That's empowering for me as a more established artist."

It's clear from the work on display that the YoungArts alumni are capable of not only creating mature and polished work but also addressing embedded histories, cultural production and media, and issues within consumerism. Having artists such as Adams at their fingertips can only enhance their head start — but it isn't a one-way street.

"A lot of [these young visual artists] are already so in tune to certain things. It’s important for me, too, to see that — how they process that information and how that's distributed through their art-making," Adams says. "I'm equally learning from them. I need to be in that environment as an artist as I mature and learn from those young artists. I'm constantly blown away by their advancement."

"Black White and Brown." Through January 27, 2018, at Primary Projects, 15 NE 39th St., Miami; Admission is free.

"Imagination Land: Fantastical Narrative." Through December 15 at the National YoungArts Foundation, 2100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; Admission is free.
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Taylor Estape

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