Kwadwo Adae’s oil paintings are full of vibrant movement. His color palette as well as the depths of texture and form call to the viewer and pull us into each work. In XXVIII, for example, shades of bright green call out, since they seem to pulsate within the deep variations of brown underneath. Adae’s works then transcend the confines of the canvas as the paint itself jumps out of the picture plane. Already full of bends and swirls, valleys and divots, Adae’s pieces become sculptural as mounds, spindles, dewdrops, tentacles of paint leap out into the third dimension.
As we sat on the floor of his artist loft in Westville, Connecticut, I asked Kwadwo to describe how he works:
The first part is to choose a few colors that I want to see together, colors that I’m craving at the time. I’ll start with an idea of form and I will establish a non-objective rule that is the law in the piece. For example, purple hyperbolic squares only or yellow green triangles or squares.
Kwadwo went on to explain that he layers color and forms in ways that “interfere with the first design or form,” adding a “contrasting” element. And then the final step:
It’s math, so you have two variables that you’ve got and you want to add a third to make them complete so that’s when I add thicker parts and I add a color family that will balance the piece until it’s visually silent.
While speaking with Kwadwo, I took “visually silent” to mean the moment in which the artist reaches a balance and harmony within the piece, the moment the work ceases to tug on your coattails, ceases to demand more. However, to those who have viewed Kwadwo’s work, his pieces are anything but silent.
In all of his works, a kind of conversation seems to exist between the various levels of paint. In XXX, for instance, the brilliant blacks and navies might seem to tease the overlapping lighter shades of purple, pink and blue as they weave in, out and around this design. One might view this relationship as antagonistic, the points poking at the pattern below. Or perhaps the swirls are not teasing at all, but caring and loving as they nestle up to their brighter counterparts. Then, with the addition of a third dimension, the piece becomes even more vibrant, more alive. Golden worms, dewdrops, leaves, stripes, cheerios, squids seep into the purple blues and playfully overlap the dark waves. I asked Kwadwo to explain how he creates this third dimension to his works:
I’ll take a tube and squeeze it right on top and then I’ll play with it using knitting needles, staples, swizzle sticks, palette knives, my finger, regular brushes – whatever it takes to get the desired shape. And the rule for the textures is that they cannot repeat themselves. I want to make sure there is enough variation, that there are enough forms unique to just that painting.
Kwadwo explained with a smile that he has been working on his thesis for years and is still excited by each piece: “I never know what [the paintings are] going to look like until they’re done so it’s exciting to keep making them.”
As well as working on his own paintings, Adae now teaches at Adae Fine Art Academy on Chapel Street in New Haven. Beginning as a way to pay for the studio space, the Adae Academy opened with six students in 2005 and has now grown to twenty: “Students are taught on an individual basis, pursuing their own specific artistic interests. There is no set curriculum and students are encouraged to create with a variety of media, subject matter and technique.” Kwadwo founded the school after earning a Master in Painting at New York University; it was there that he traveled down the path ultimately leading to his current series:
I was making abstract figures that were faceless – rather, they were minimally featured, identity-less more than anything else. I got bad feedback, which led me to creating landscapes in the same style but with no people. I was trying to figure out where the people who were in my paintings would be hanging out. I did four landscapes and the last one [of dead trees] was awful. I hated it so much that I got mad and painted over it recklessly. I put in soft pink forms, then hard dark violets and blues over the trees. It led me to the non-objective pieces … Thirty-two paintings later, I’m still trying to define what non-objective means and how it can be conveyed.
With each piece, Adae’s overarching goal is always the same: to make a truly non-objective piece, one that transcends any sole objective association. Kwadwo explained that “making things objective is a lot easier than you realize! You have to work to make something non-objective.” Adae’s hope is that each of us will not only see something different from one another in his works, but also that each of us will see multiple interpretations within each painting as well: “If I have a group looking at one piece all seeing the same objective thing then that means I failed. Or if I see only one objective thing then that means I have to change it.”
Adae’s paintings call to the viewer and lead us around in a fantastical world that changes as much as we allow it. Virtually every time I look at one of his works, new shapes, images, relationships and ideas spring to mind. Take XXIX for example. At first, I see a gloomy cityscape infested with parasitic insects. On second look, rows of pink Gumbys waver in a murky coral reef waters. As I stare longer, rock sculptures at Monument Valley studded with gold sequins and lace emerge. The list continues.
Adae is now in the midst of developing a new way to display his work: The Cube Route. With the help of a good friend, Kwadwo has constructed a giant 58” by 58” by 40” deep cube, weighing approximately 120 lbs, on which his paintings will be displayed. As presented in his solo exhibition at New Haven’s Artspace in February 2009, Kwadwo sees his pieces as part of a larger grid:
All of the paintings are squares. I was playing around with the fact that you can make more squares exponentially by adding them to each other; they make grids. But a 15 foot square is tough to install, so I began thinking of other formats to hang the squares. I was looking at dice and thinking it would be cool to make a cube of paintings. I began thinking about other cubes, like the Astor Place Cube or the Bienecke Cube and all of them stand on one of its vertices. I decided to suspend the cube from the ceiling so the viewer could walk around the paintings; the viewer will have to interact with them. You can only see a maximum of three paintings at once. The more cubes there are in an exhibition, the more walking you would have to do. The idea is paintings as kinetic sculptures instead of just paintings.
In this sense, the cube seems to be an extension of an idea already present in Kwadwo’s work. Just as each piece pulls the viewer in and the paint moves about within (and outside of) the canvas, the viewer will now be forced to actively interact with the pieces themselves, to walk around the cube to view each work. Moving perhaps like a swirl present on one square or a slither present on another: a movement that will potentially compliment the movement within each piece. The new associations and ideas that promise to arise from such a display are endless and I look forward to watching Adae’s work continue to transform and take on new life.
To view more of Kwadwo Adae’s work, please visit: kwadrants.blogspot.com