“My work is a direct reflection of things in the world, whether those things are objects, language, colors or a feeling that I want to embody through painting,” says Carris Adams. Her paintings and drawings concern language in the form of signs—that is, the quotidian advertisement in both its vernacular and semiotic dimensions. Adams toys with the mutability of language itself, deploying fonts and phrases in layers of idiosyncratic amalgamations. Words and phrases meld and dissolve into each other, but they never entirely cancel each other out. Adams paints palimpsests, working over still-legible texts to establish contradictions and dualities in tension. To examine her work is to be a detective and a semiotician, or even an archaeologist. “I’m moved by things that attempt to be or are completely ignorant of what they signify, and the power that they are given by imaginary sources that have long preceded my generation,” Adams elaborates. Her tableaus are a rich territory where meaning, interpretation and intent overlap in unexpected ways.
“I grew up riding buses and using signs as markers and as points for navigating the city. In doing this, it was very clear to me what kinds of things were available in a Black or Brown space versus a white space. This included the mutability of the language, the age of the surface, typographic design and how history and politics are intertwined in all these markers within the landscape.”
Adams channels this experience of inscribing symbols into her psyche by layering paint and pencil to reveal the inherent power of words. Buried within these strata are tangible references imbricated among more abstract treatments. The viewer must slow down to consider how the physical manifestations of dreams, goals, seductions and policies in the form of vernacular symbols evoke the remnants of historical constructs that continue to reverberate throughout society. Her first solo exhibition in Chicago, titled “This, That, and the Third,” opened at Tiger Strikes Asteroid in March of this year.
Adams earned her MFA from the University of Chicago in 2015. Last year, she started the biweekly podcast, “Too Many Degrees,” recruiting co-hosts Esau McGhee and Jared Richardson to discuss contemporary art through the perspectives of practicing artists, critics and scholars. In the podcast, Carris speaks of the persistent challenge of not having enough time to complete a painting, starting a conversation that is thoughtful, honest and humorous. The broadcasts are longform and in-depth; they reward careful and dedicated listening. Currently, Adams is preparing for an upcoming solo show at the Courtyard Gallery at her undergraduate alma mater, the University of Texas, Austin. (Nicole Mauser)