“‘Old News: In the Garden’ is about putting a more timeless image of beauty and nature on top of our current news, our daily record of human triumph, tragedy and folly,” Adam Straus says of his work on this week’s Dan’s Papers cover. The painting itself is done with oil and pencil atop copies of The New York Times, transferred and glued to the canvas.
“I wanted a crazy kind of growth coming out of this mostly bad news, an escape from the day to day,” Straus says, noting that everything found in this painting can also be found in your yard or garden at home, making it a locally inspired painting. “It was my way of saying that no matter how much we trash our earth that nature will grow out of the cracks of whatever we leave.”
Do you consider your art political?
Almost everything I have done as an artist has been filtered through my upbringing of social political awareness and activism combined with a magical childhood immersed in the adventure of exploring and learning about the nature of South Florida. That said, sometimes I simply want to make a beautiful picture where I attempt to render the magic and awe of an experience in nature.
And living on the East End for the last 15 years has inspired a substantial amount of that kind of painting. What I usually strive for is combining beauty, mystery and craft along with something about our time in history, the effect we are having on nature, often with humor or the absurd thrown in for good measure.
What brought you from Florida to the East End?
In 1990, after 10 years in Tallahassee—first for graduate school then working various and sundry jobs just about every artist has had, and lastly teaching photography and running the photo lab at Florida State University—I moved to New York. At the time, I was 34 years old with a very comfortable life, but had wanted to try living in the city for quite a while, and figured if I didn’t do it then, I never would.
I was also very lucky to have already had a successful show in Manhattan with Nohra Haime Gallery. But then after 13 years, I found myself increasingly yearning for the horizon line, to be able to fish again, to be on and in the water, and witness the green of something growing. My wife and I were also expecting a child and wanted a little more space to raise him, or her. So, in 2003, we moved to Riverhead, about a month before our son was born. It’s interesting to me how living in the city makes one hyper aware of space, nature and the color green, and I don’t think I will ever completely forget that lesson.
Where’s the strangest/most unusual place your work has appeared?
I can’t really think of a strange or unusual place my paintings have been exhibited, but one of my favorites is the ambassador’s residence in Havana, Cuba. A large seascape painting of mine inspired by a rough Long Island Sound was chosen to be part of the Art in Embassies program there several years ago. I had grown up on Key Biscayne with the kids in the first wave of families that fled Cuba after the revolution. Since then, there has been this vast sea of differences and a lot of dangerous water between our two governments, both real and metaphoric.
Politically, after 50 years, relations were finally beginning to change. President Obama had started to open up travel, trade and dialog. To have my painting of this rough sea shown there was very special to me. So many people had ventured out on the real body of water between us, many dying in the process. For me, and hopefully others, the context had a profound effect on the meaning of the painting.
If you could sit down to coffee with any artist from history, who would it be and what would you talk about?
I was very fortunate to have met and hung out a bit with Robert Rauschenberg and James Rosenquist in the ’80s. I would love to see them again but I don’t think we’d be drinking coffee. I’d love to ask Rauschenberg if what a friend of mine that knew him had told me was true, that his mother had used some of his paintings to board up her windows in advance of a hurricane. And, that she had put them up face-in because she didn’t want the neighbors to think she was crazy.
I’d love to watch Duchamp play chess or talk to Mark Rothko and Franz Kline about whether or not landscape painting can ever be viable. To watch Vija Celmins paint and talk to her about how she does what she does. Or, go back and tell Van Gogh that he is going to be known and loved beyond his wildest dreams, and to please just keep painting.