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Site-specific art: John Adams at Greater Reston Arts Center

An art lesson from John Adams. Here is an instance when the catalogue picture doesn’t tell the entire story. Artist John Adams created a temporary drawing titled “Stuart’s Draft, 2014” that is graphite powder.

The making of 'Stuart's Draft' by John Adams at GRACE
John Adams, GRACE Artist Members Exhibition Catalogue
GRACE Artist Members Exhibition Catalogue

The GRACE Artist Member Exhibition catalogue provides the artist’s description:

“My site-specific drawings are temporary artworks requiring the viewers to be in a specific place at a specific time to truly experience the work. Strokes of graphite evoke plumes of smoke or light reflected on the surface of water in keeping with the artwork’s transitory nature. These components offer a metaphor for evolution - moving the viewer through creation, existence, and eventual destruction.”

John Adams

Alternatively, the artist could have brought in a smoke machine, but that would have been a distraction in the gallery as smoke is hard to control. The slow motion idea that this work will one day disappear forever is like performance art that may be captured in digital image but the real thing will be lost.

Fortunately he did capture it, and here it is:

So why didn’t the artist just paint some panels and install them for removal and reuse? It is because impermanence is a part of the story.

“General's Powdered Graphite is ideal for covering large areas or for drawing and mixing media. It leaves a smooth, satin finish. Apply it with chamois, fingers, or cloth or use a brush to apply it as a wash.”

Stuart’s Draft is a part of Virginia history. Choosing that particular place is interesting. But, that location is not the inspiration unless it is a play on words. From the video above, we learned that “Stuart” refers to John’s friend, Stuart Downs, a poet and professor who died last year.

Stuart Downs was a literary critic who wrote about Sherwood Anderson in a review of selected Anderson poems. One thing leads to another.

“Evening Song

By Sherwood Anderson

From “Mid-American Songs”

MY song will rest while I rest. I struggle along. I’ll get back to the corn and the open fields. Don’t fret, love, I’ll come out all right.

Back of Chicago the open fields. Were you ever there—trains coming toward you out of the West—streaks of light on the long gray plains? Many a song—aching to sing.

I’ve got a gray and ragged brother in my breast—that’s a fact. Back of Chicago the open fields—long trains go west too—in the silence. Don’t fret, love. I’ll come out all right.”

Sherwood Anderson is one of my favorite authors. Now, we know more about John Adams and the need to search beyond impermanence for the meaning in his work.

“In 1749, Thomas Stuart purchased 353 acres (1.43 km2) near the South River, a tribuary of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. 'Draft' probably refers to the document drafting the land sale or is a reference to the river itself (draft is an old term for river or creek and is part of the name of several such in the area). The plain on the south side of the river tends to channel the wind, thus forming a rather constant draft.”,_Virginia

What do we know about the artist?

John M. Adams obtained his Master of Fine Arts at James Madison University with a concentration in Studio Art. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Virginia Commonwealth University with concentration in Art Education, Minor: Painting and Printmaking.

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