In the Holodeck of Human Society with Artist DERRICK ADAMS

By Jonathan Metzelaar

March 2012

For a deconstructionist artist, there is perhaps no better place to hone one’s craft than New York City. Deconstructionism is, after all, a movement concerned with both complicating and explaining the way we view the world. This seemingly incompatible reconciliation of order and chaos is something encountered practically every day in New York. In the city, impeccably designed skyscrapers tower quietly over the loud, manic scurry of rush hour foot-traffic, and people from all walks of life rub shoulders as the subway carries them to their various destinations.

It is for this reason that New York serves as the perfect backdrop for artist Derrick Adams’ work, as the intermingling of order and chaos is prevalent in his pieces. By combining various materials and symbols, Derrick creates images that are at once fragmented and whole, simultaneously challenging and engaging the viewer.

Jonathan Metzelaar: What first motivated you to want to become an artist?

Derrick Adams: As a small child growing up in Baltimore, I remember being asked to make banners for special events in grade school. It was a task that I took very seriously.  This art-making activity usually took place on the hallway floors during class time, and it gave me a way out of the rigid structure of the school system to really do what I found to be empowering.  To see my work displayed on the school walls gave me an added sense of self-worth and purpose, and an understanding of the value of an artist.

JM: In your bio it states that your art is rooted in “deconstructionist philosophies,” and a lot of your pieces seem to play with the idea of deconstruction. What about deconstructionism do you find alluring, either as a philosophy or an artistic movement? What does it allow you to do with your art that other movements or philosophies maybe don’t allow for?

DA: I’m drawn to deconstructionism as a philosophy and as a practice because of my interest in the interpretation of signs and symbols and how we decode messages and images.  We decipher constructed objects by how they appear on the surface, but through deconstruction we can investigate what lies beneath the surface and test for relevance and purpose.

JM: Urban structures, building materials, and images of African-Americans seem to be recurring themes in your art that occasionally, but not always, intermingle.  What is the significance of some of these themes? What are you trying to express through them?

DA: The subjects and objects in my work are viewed from my vanishing point, and they both represent the cultural perspective from where I am standing.  Like most artists, I am creating a visual language from themes and experiences that are familiar to me.

JM: You received your BFA from Pratt Institute and your MFA from Columbia University.  What impact, if any, has living and working in New York City had on your work?

DA: I consider New York the holodeck of human society.  It is a unique environment with many versions of itself–much like an infinity mirror. This city serves as a reference for most other cities who would like to be it, so much so that if you find yourself chillin’ in another city that considers itself progressive, a native will attempt to describe that place in comparison to New York in order to define itself.  I find myself motivated in any urban space, but none the way this city fuels me.

JM: Do you feel as if there is a cohesive idea that connects all your work together, or do you consider yourself more of an exploratory artist that enjoys engaging a wide range of ideas that are not necessarily related to one another in any way?

DA: I do enjoy exploring a wide range of ideas, but I feel that they are all related. It is important to maintain order if you’re trying to have a conversation, and my goal as an artist is to create an ongoing conversation that challenges and engages the audience and keeps them interested in the conversation.

JM: What do you consider your goal as an artist to be? When you go about creating something, what do you hope to accomplish?

DA: My goal as an artist is to be productive and consistent, and to surround myself with individuals who inspire and challenge me.

JM: As the popularity of so-called “street artists” like Banksy and Shepard Fairey has risen, so too has debate over whether they can truly be considered artists, and whether what they’re doing is truly good for the art world. Where do you stand on the issue?

DA: Anybody can be an artist and, like all things, the art world needs a full-spectrum to be complete. My job is to make work, not to speak on another artist’s relevance–that is more for the art critics and historians to decide. I am interested in ideas, and I am concerned with visual language and the idea transformation. This task keeps me very busy and entertained.

JM: Are you currently working on any projects or events?

DA: Yes, there are some of the things I have coming up that I’m really excited about. I’m having a solo exhibition called The World According To Derrick: Performative Objects in Formation from July 13th to September 23rd at the Mills Gallery in the Boston Center for Arts. The exhibition will feature a collection of sculpture and photographs from performance and performative works.

Also, from September 17th to September 20th at the BAM Fisher Theatre I’ll have a solo performance called The Channel. The Channel is a lively, serio-comic, performance presented in a format much like early-learning educational television programs. This new performance explores the constructs of American popular culture and its relationship to commerce and the development of self-image. It will be a series of short performances incorporating costumes, video projections, dance routines, deejay sets and an interactive sculptural element as the backdrop.  The show will also feature an original musical score (and rap performance) by multimedia artist, Ramon Silva.

Derrick Adams is an emerging young artist operating out of New York. Adams received his MFA from Columbia University in 2003 and his BFA from Pratt Institute in 1996.  His upcoming exhibition opens on July 13th at The Boston Center for Arts.


Derrick Adams’ Official Site

Derrick Adams interviewed by Jonathan Metzelaar

Written and Edited by Jonathan Metzelaar

Photography by Ray Llanos

Design by Marie Havens


Page 1:

Derrick Adams, Photograph by Ray Llanos / Courtesy of Derrick Adams

Page 2:

(L) Head #2, Art © Derrick Adams
(R) Head #3, Art © Derrick Adams

Page 3:

(L) Head #4, Art © Derrick Adams
(R) Head #5, Art © Derrick Adams

Page 4:

Human Structure Hoisted, Art © Derrick Adams

Page 5:

Human Structures In Formation, Art © Derrick Adams

Page 6:

Human Structures Paired, Art © Derrick Adams

Page 7:

(L) Head #6, Art © Derrick Adams
(R) Head #7, Art © Derrick Adams

Page 8:

(L) Head #8, Art © Derrick Adams
(R) Head #9, Art © Derrick Adams

Page 9:

Human Structure Leaning, Art © Derrick Adams

Page 10:

Human Structure Birthing Identical Human Structure, Art © Derrick Adams

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