SURREY — Jim Adams was at Surrey Art Gallery last week to witness the progress of his first major exhibit there since the 1980s. He liked what he saw, and he’s excited about it all, but he was also a bit confused.
“I kept reading all this stuff and saying to myself, ‘Who is this guy? He’s awfully good. Do I know this guy?’”
Adams laughed at the memory and made himself more comfortable in a chair in the living room of his home in White Rock.
When the Now-Leader visited, a recent leg operation had him hobbling more than usual, and Adams made good use of a cane to get up and down the stairs of the hillside home, which he shares with his wife Mary.
Adams eagerly talked about “The Irretrievable Moment,” the title of the biggest exhibition of his decades-long career as an artist. The show opens Saturday evening (April 8) at the gallery, located at Bear Creek Park.
“I thought, what the hell, I’m coming up on my 75th birthday, let’s see if we can pull it off here,” Adams recalled. “And it turned out to be bigger than I thought it would be.”
Curators at SAG and The Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford hatched a plan to showcase Adams’ work at both facilities this spring.
“So it’s a two-part show,” Adams explained. “First it’s a set of paintings and artwork in Surrey, then a completely different set of paintings and artwork shown in Abbotsford (starting on May 25). The work in Abbotsford is a bit more recent, and the work in Surrey is a bit more of an overview of what I’ve done.”
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PICTURED: Jim Adams’ “Centurion-Self-Portrait.”
Born in Philadelphia, Adams has been living in the Vancouver area since the early 1970s. Upon arriving here, he soon found a job in the fine-arts department of the newly created Douglas College.
“The art department for Douglas was in the old Simon Cunningham school on King George Highway, across from what is now the tax centre,” Adams remembered. “That’s where I taught my first classes.”
The first floor was where the bathrooms were located, and the artists occupied rooms upstairs. All of the students were in portable classrooms, but they had to come to the main building to use the bathrooms.
“It was a comfortable arrangement and we enjoyed the space, and it got to the point where we would have life models for the drawing class come in, and for the sculpture and ceramics classes,” Adams recalled. “Quite often the models didn’t bother getting dressed, they’d just grab their robe and go next door. But we had to stop that, because one time a female model was going next door, and there’s three little kids with their eyes wide open, staring at her. That was a memorable incident for them, I’m sure.”
For 40 years, Adams has been an advocate for the visual arts in Surrey and beyond, and in 2008 he was given Surrey’s Civic Treasure award for his work.
He taught, and he also created art.
“I’m retired from teaching now, but you can’t really retire from being an artist,” Adams explained in his deep, authoritative voice. “The only time you do that is when you die, because you just continue to create no matter what. Once you have that bug, it’s in you. At the moment, there’s nothing on my easel, so I suppose I’ll have to bring up some blank canvasses from downstairs and get going again, for my next show now.”
Adams is planning to be at “The Irretrievable Moment” launch event, which starts at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and will include a talk with the artist. Later this month, on April 23, an afternoon panel discussion will see exhibit co-curators Laura Schneider and Jordan Strom joined by writer Yaniya Lee and artist Sylvia Grace Borda to discuss the significance of Adams’s artmaking.
The exhibit title reflects the tone and nature of Adams’ work, which the curators say “combines historical events with speculative futures, real people in imagined situations, and mythological people in contemporary scenarios.”
Adams’ students include Marcus Bowcott, whose “Trans Am Totem” showcases a stack of cars near Main Street SkyTrain station in Vancouver.
As for teaching, Adams said he misses interacting with students, but not doing all the administrative stuff and office politics.
“Every now and again I will run across a former student, and usually it starts out like, ‘You probably don’t remember me but you taught me way back in nineteen-seventy-something,’” Adams said. “You start feeling really old, but it’s nice to see those students and how they’re doing.”