'Lisa Adams: The Difference Between Human Nature And The Human Spirit,' Duke Art Gallery, Azusa Pacific University

It's not monumental work but it is heroic. It holds fast to the present while it focuses on the future in the face of grin-and-bear-it doldrums. It shows the episodic nature of the world, a given, behind which lies an unchanging essence of I can.
09/11/2014 11:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Photos courtesy of Lisa Adams and CB1 Gallery.

Everything's here. A modern art lexicon. Figuration. Audubon birds, the texture of tree trunks, the cotton candy wispiness of cumulus clouds. Things hover in an atmospheric space. Abstraction. Some rectangles are diaphanous. Some are opaque. They occlude land- and cityscapes like geometric smudges on a window. Irregular negative spaces blaze with blues, reds, and greens. They flatten the space and emphasize the picture plane. Gravity-compelled paint blobs whose tendrils winnow down the surface. And both. A flower that looks like a Rothko circle. An eclipsed sun that doubles as a Malevich Suprematist sphere. Arrangements of flowers and clouds that look like Fourth of July fireworks.

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Drowning Out All Birdsong

A gamut of emotions. They're joyous. Titles that allude to birdsong, epiphanies, and paradise. Subject matter that features birds that eat and drink. Flowers that reach for the sun, that drape freeway signage. Sinuous vines that cascade like a waterfall. And they're melancholy. Smog that smothers trees. A pink cross that negates flowers that emerge from a decapitated tree. The suggestion of freeway noise that drowns out birdsong. Individually and from piece to piece, subjects decompose, they regenerate.

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Privilege Entails Responsibility

The human condition. Sisyphus? He's joyless, one side of the existential coin. Adams' work combines three things. The persistence of Sisyphus. The tranquility of a Buddhist monk. And the unacknowledged rainbow exuberance of a flower vendor. It documents a world that generates and entropies, regenerates and re-entropies. Any one point on the continuum is a worldview, a zeitgeist. They're but the swing of a pendulum. Adams' work subsumes them all, Edens, dystopias, and everything in between. It's pre- and postlapsarian. Those birds that seem so innocent? They aren't. That sky that seems so blue? It isn't. The flora that suggests regeneration? It can't. They're all better for the experience. It's a world beset by lassitude, fecklessness, and carelessness. The one thing you don't see in her work is people. That's because her work is about the difference between human nature and the human spirit. We are the cause and the effect.

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Seconds To Go

Everything's here. There's a unity, taut and prescribed. Though the scenarios aren't utopian, the colors are bright and hopeful. The compositions are stable. They suggest cycles, constant states of affairs. It's an aesthetic that's not so much inchoate as un-choate. Beauty is a perpetual state of blossoming.

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Paradise Notwithstanding

These are myths, personal, subjective myths, a breviary, a daybook. They sigh with nostalgia and resignation, common sense and poetic rapture. They're didactic the way a stained glass window is didactic.

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And The World Shall Remain Silent

Call them Adams' Mythology. Each picture, all seven of them, tells a story. It's the same story, a Joseph Campbell one. It's not a modern (or postmodern) tale. It's a timeless one. As Campbell writes, "we are concerned ... with problems of symbolism, not of historicity." It involves a hero, scratch that, a heroine. She leaves home (Separation), endures trials (Initiation), and matures from the trek. It's the voyage back, the sharing, (Return) that interests us. Her sharing of the wisdom acquired, the lessons learned.

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The Mire of Epiphany

This mythology doesn't just provide emotional ballast. It heralds, time after time, a vivid renewal of life. It's not about alienation but forgiveness. It's about the way a personal myth can tap into universal truths of perpetual renewals. She's managed to step out of the labyrinth of style and contemporary concern. This provides her with a bird's eye view of the world as it can become, the way it has been, and the way it will continue to alternate between becoming and having-been.

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Sandy Says So

It's not monumental work but it is heroic. It holds fast to the present while it focuses on the future in the face of grin-and-bear-it doldrums. It shows the episodic nature of the world, a given, behind which lies an unchanging essence of I can. And so, Campbell again: "every one of us shares the supreme ordeal - carries the cross of the redeemer - not in the bright moments of his tribe's great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair."

The exhibition runs until September 26. The Gallery is located at Azusa Pacific University, 701 E. Foothill Boulevard, Azusa, CA 91702. For more information, call (626) 387-5726 or write art design@apu.edu.