Visual Voice: Ron Adams

The WFMA celebrates the artist’s visual voice by exploring artworks from multiple view points.

Black History Month 2021

In February, the Museum celebrates Black History Month. Throughout the month, we will showcase artworks by Black artists in the Permanent Collection, on view in the galleries through February 20. Learn about these accomplished artists and their works, and then see their art in person.

Please note:
Because of the Museum’s snow storm closure during the last week of the exhibition Color in Art, Color in Life, we will display these artworks in the Museum’s lobby through the end of February, so you to see them in person! Look for upcoming features about artists Karsten Creightney and Romare Bearden.

Daily Life

by Cammie Dean, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and
Director, MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center, Midwestern State University

A common struggle of any minority population in a society is to find themselves represented in mainstream art and media. Such representation serves two purposes. First, it affords a sense of legitimacy and self-respect to the members of the minority group. Self-esteem and confidence are bolstered when we see positive reflections of ourselves in mass media, in entertainment, and on museum walls. Second, these representations offer imagery more often associated with the privileged majority. In this way, artwork that displays Black people just living and loving, not necessarily in the same way as White people but in our own way, dispels generalizations of the minority population that are often viewed as negative or inferior.

“…Our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era. Not white art painting black…let’s bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let’s sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let’s do the impossible. Let’s create something transcendentally material, mystically objective. Earthy. Spiritually earthy. Dynamic.” – Aaron Douglas

Profile in Blue

Collector’s Circle Purchase, 2012

On view in the exhibition Color in Art, Color in Life: Prisms, Pigments, and Purpose through February 20

Ron Adams describes in an oral interview that he made the work Profile in Blue, “When I left Mexico and got a job at Gemini G.E.L. [Gemini G.E.L. LLC, Los Angeles, CA] and learned printmaking. At that particular time, printmaking it’s just like construction work. And I mean when you get through working at a shop, if you’re doing your job, that’s the last thing you gonna do is mess with some art when you get home. So, the fact is, is when I opened my own shop [Hand Graphics LLC, Santa Fe, NM] I was totally dedicated to that, and I put my own work away. For seventeen years I didn’t do any of my own stuff. I was working with other artists and that sort of thing. And finally when I was visiting a friend of mine one day for dinner…and I just started sketching on the table on a napkin or something, and that looks interesting. I says I think I’ll do a print of that, and that was the first piece I did in seventeen years. …It’s actually a portrait of me sitting on the press.”

Ron Adams, 2010

(The HistoryMakers A2010.081), interviewed by Denise Gines, July 13, 2010, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 8, Ron Adams describes his print, ‘Profile in Blue’

This self-portrait of the artist in his apron shows us a hard-working man taking a break, enjoying the warmth of the sun or thinking over the something that weighs on his mind.

Cammie Dean, 2019

Director’s Exhibition Tour

This is a large print in predominantly blue and yellow, with a man in the center of the composition, situated in an interior space. He sits on the edge of a printing press, wearing an apron and holding a rolling pin that spreads ink onto the printing surface. Sunlight streams through the window behind him. A box of newsprint paper sits under the press, with a stray printed piece askew on top. The studio is tidy, still, and ready. A bowl filled with liquid, two sponges, a brush and a bottle sit to the side of the press. An open tin of red ink sits upon a shelf.

The printmaker’s back is slightly hunched. His arms are outstretched with tense muscles and tendons, anchored one to the rolling pen and the other to the ankle of a crossed leg. His profile shows soft features, void of wrinkle or expression. MSU nursing students who studied this print saw the man’s legs protruding from his pant bottoms as like skeletal bones. The title of this print, Profile in Blue, attaches the color blue to the person, indicating peace, introspection, and melancholy, while the yellow rays of sun connect him to the wider world and to time – time now and time eternal.

Though partly in repose, this man’s stance is active and taught. When I mimic his posture, I feel like I’m trying to calm myself from a place of tension. The loose print beneath the press is the only indication of untidiness. Is it late afternoon sun, and the printer is resting after his work, catching his breath? Printmaking requires strength and hard work, so I can see him trying to relax his body and mind.

If this is early morning sun, I wonder why the print beneath the press has been hastily stacked the day before, while all other things are in place; or I think, perhaps the printer paused in his morning preparation, leaving that print only half-way pulled for work. I can see how this detail serves as a visual clue that this man prints other artist’s works and not his own, as Ron Adams describes. This along with the printer’s tense muscles and gestures, tell me he struggles to begin, like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, as we say.

Tracee Robertson, 2021

Installation view 2021

Artist’s Biography

Printmaker Ron Adams is a former commercial printmaker and current independent artist who has taught at several universities and collaborated with artists such as John Biggers and Judy Chicago. He was born on June 25, 1934, in Detroit, Michigan to Laura and William Adams. Adams took classes at numerous art schools throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s, including Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Manual Arts Adult Night School, Los Angeles City College, UCLA and the University of Mexico. These classes gave him a broad base of experience in technical skills such as drafting, technical illustration, lithography, and engraving, as well as the more standard drawing and painting. He received a certificate of trade proficiency from Otis College of Art and Design in 1963.

Adams used his technical expertise to become a successful commercial printer. In 1968, while studying at the University of Mexico, Adams designed the poster, murals, and motif for the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City. Upon his return to the United States, Adams went to work at the prestigious Gemini G.E.L. printing workshop in Los Angeles, where he quickly moved from the position of assistant printer to that of master printer. In 1973, he left Gemini to work as a master printer for Editions Press in San Francisco. A year later, Adams moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico to found his own printing company, Hand Graphics Ltd. While there, he also worked as a guest instructor in the printmaking department of the University of Texas in El Paso in 1981, and chaired the Santa Fe Committee for Low-Cost Studio Space for Artists in 1985. Adams sold Hand Graphics Ltd. in 1987 and retired from commercial printing to focus on producing his own artwork. He has since served as artist-in-residence at Hampton University in Virginia in 1989 and at Tougaloo Art Colony in Mississippi in 2002.

Profile in Blue from the Permanent Collection of the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU Texas