Tom Adair’s upcoming exhibition at Metro Gallery features work from his recent trip to Miami, what the artist himself describes as an exploration of the city’s street culture through colour, line and form. The streetscapes are dominated by MiMo (Miami Modernist Movement) influenced architecture, buildings created in opposition to the minimalist style that dominated other architectural movements during the post-war period. Consequently, opulence and material excess pervade the aesthetic of most South Florida buildings from this era. Adair has boldly reconfigured aesthetic devices from his earlier work to illuminate the dichotomy between this affluent exterior and the city’s true gritty substance. Motivated, perhaps, by his early career as a graffiti artist, Adair insists that the audience view the world from the street. We can look at the magnificent architecture in front of us, but we can never touch it. We are always positioned as the denizens of South Beach’s darker sub-culture.
The dotted rendering, a trademark of Adair’s, ensures that the closer one walks toward the paintings the less real they seem. While they coalesce into a discernible image from afar, the dots gradually disintegrate the closer we come. This dichotomy between appearance and substance is one of the central themes in the artist’s oeuvre, and is pushed to new limits in the quasi-sculptural works from “Miami Vibes”. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this show, these pieces reaffirm the same concept but with a wholly different aesthetic device. Viewed from afar, “Flamingo Towers” looks to be a representation of a building not unlike any other depicted in the artist’s style. As we move toward it, and particularly as we move around it, we see that Adair has embossed a sheet of polyurethane foam which, when viewed from the side, becomes nothing but a collection of bumps and ridges.
“Street Party”, one of the key pieces from this exhibition, depicts a graffiti tag on a wall at the corner of an intersection. In a formal sense, this picture perfectly captures the polarities of Miami’s street culture. While the tag, as a visual cue, suggests the darker underbelly of South Beach, the methodical process with which Adair has rendered it alludes to the way this aspect of the city is sugar coated and swept under the rug. “Street Party” combines one of the most free-flowing and vandalistic forms of expression, graffiti, with Adair’s own “gallery friendly” style. The dotted tag is a perfect summation of the central theme of “Miami Vibes”, as well as Adair’s own progression as an artist.
Adair’s artistic merit has nothing to do with his ability to create illusions of reality as that is what any representational artist does. What distinguishes him is his ability to destabilise the illusion in front of us, ensuring that it falls apart as we are drawn in, fly like, by the neon lights that adorn the work. Shapes disintegrate and coalesce as Adair sees fit and he masterfully choreographs the audience’s interaction with his paintings.
Text by Julius Killerby.