1953, Washington – 2014, New York
Terry Adkins who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 60, left behind a multidisciplinary body of work, which he himself described as “[an] attempt to make sculpture that is ethereal as music and music that physically approaches the visceral suggestion of matter”. As an artist, teacher and saxophonist, his practice encompassed the sculptural assemblage of found objects, installation, photography, video, and drawing… his works might then be incorporated in “recitals”: performances bringing together friends and associates, made up of live and recorded music, improvisations, video, recitals, costumes and gestures. This kind of “abstract portraiture” was “a way of dealing with history, of re-writing it, of re-imagining it”, in order to proclaim loud and clear the silent legacies of the “Immortals”, unheralded African-American figures into which he undertook in-depth research.
With the series After Bonnaterre, T. Adkins created a surprising parallel between the work of George W. Carver (1864–1943), a freed American slave, teacher, chemist and botanist, and the monochromes of the French artist Yves Klein, famous for having created the blue which here covers botanical illustrations of P.J. Bonnaterre, an 18th century French naturalist. By letting a leaf appear here and there behind the opaque blue surface, he draws the attention to the lesser known innovations of G.W. Carver, who was also a painter, musician and creator of many pigments and dyes.
For its part, the sculpture Nutjuitok (Polar Star), on view close by, conjures up the life of Matthew Henson (1866–1955), an African-American explorer, the first man to reach the North Pole and commander Robert Peary’s travelling companion on eight expeditions. Having never been thought of as anything other than a henchman, he remained in the obscurity of anonymity. The work’s title, an Inuit word, evokes M. Henson’s mastery of that language and his close relationship with the Inuit Nation, within which he found a wife who bore him children, thus de facto helping in the conquest of those lands attributed to R. Perry. Here, the sculpture seems to gleam from within as if it had imprisoned the ghostly light of the aurora borealis. Described by the artist as “the cold heart of darkness”, the work seeks to give resonance to an experience of the Arctic, one of silence and light, as possibly lived by M. Henson.
After Bonnaterre 76, 2013
After Bonnaterre 78, 2013
After Bonnaterre 79, 2013
After Bonnaterre 81, 2013
After Bonnaterre 83, 2013
After Bonnaterre 93, 2013
Gouache on botanical engravings
Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
Nutjuitok (Polar Star), 2012
Steel, glass, light
D. Daskalopoulos Collection