Lockdown and locked out! Creativity is the heartbeat, soul, and lifeline of every artist, and when the ability to create is compromised, the effects can be life-changing. I recently reached out to a good friend, British artist Adam Ball, based in London, to ask him how he was handling lockdown. On a brighter note though, we mostly engaged in a general chit chat, or chinwag, as us Brits prefer to describe an ebb and flow of casual conversation between friends.
I met Adam Ball back in 2014 when he visited Dallas to attend MTV RE:DEFINE—he donated a work, Shine, a black paper-cutout abstraction of his DNA reflected over gold leaf paper, which completely fascinated me. Adam is known for his intricate hand-cut paper and textile cutouts, a craft of intense, dedicated focus. In September that same year, he exhibited at The Goss-Michael Foundation for a second time, a solo show, The Space Between, showcasing his intricate hand-cut transparent works in textiles and paper, some with charcoal, while other works highlighted with LEDs.
In 2015, Adam Ball collaborated with established footwear brand, Clarks, to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Desert Boot, curated by our mutual good friend and art curator Filippo Tattoni-Marcozzi. Keeping good company, Adam was commissioned to design a boot, for the Clarks: Rebooted project, (which yours truly covered here) resulting in a timeless laser-cut style.
Over the years we’ve connected on occasion, via client installations in Dallas, and in London during Frieze Art Fair at his exhibition Remnants and Realisations in 2018 with Encounter Contemporary. Most recently Adam has been preparing for an upcoming exhibition for DRAW Art Fair in London, initially scheduled for this May, which for obvious reasons is postponed until further notice. Adam is now re-exploring his studio, after a month of being locked out, and shared these thoughtful anecdotes with me.
How has COVID-19 affected your workflow this past month, and upcoming months?
AB: Dramatically! Like most people worldwide, this year will be a very different year from the one that I initially planned as all my exhibitions and projects are now postponed. For a while, I stopped making art altogether (which I’ve never done before), as the impact on society was becoming increasingly evident, being creative didn’t seem so important. However, change can be liberating and so with no deadlines, I am now back doing new work. Plus, I’m told that I am much easier to live with when I’m creating.
When your studio closed due to government restrictions, how did you compensate your artistic creativity at home with your family?
AB: When London went into lockdown, I set up space at home where I could work, but with two young children, it wasn’t that productive. I have lots of respect for all those parents homeschooling while doing full-time jobs. I read an article recently, stating that it’s a myth that women are better at multitasking than men, but it’s definitely true in my house!! Fortunately, my studio is open again, so I can jump between my studio and helping at home. Most artists have spent years working in isolation so they can probably adapt more quickly to this new way of life.
The last exhibition I visited was Remnants and Realisations in London, during Frieze Art Week in 2018. This exhibition showcased sculpture, a new medium for you at that time. Do you see sculpture as a future continuation of your work, realising 2D as 3D?
AB: Yes, I hope so. For 20-years, I only worked as a painter, so it was exciting to start to make wall sculptures from steel or wood burnt with a flame-thrower. It allowed me to think differently and exhibit work in new locations, such as public spaces or private gardens. I was recently commissioned to make a 20ft wall sculpture which I’m looking forward to starting, COVID permitting.
Last year, the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge revealed a permanent installation of your work. Colour was a significant element; tell me about your process of selecting a colour?
AB: This was my first public permanent installation, and I spent a considerable amount of time working on it—nearly 8-years in the planning. It is 16m (52ft.) wide, and the imagery was made by collaborating with the surgeons, pharmacists and nurses from the hospital, so it’s relevant to the work that takes place at the hospital. The colour gradually changes over the course of a year, and I worked with a colour specialist (French colour expert Jean-Gabriel Causse) to look at the effect of colour on well-being and on mental health. We are all affected by colour every day, but what is interesting is how evenly we are affected by it. Orange, for example, helps boost optimism, inner-strength and happiness and helps treat depression, negativity, stress, bereavement or loss, hence why there is a lot of orange on my installation during the winter. The effect of orange is equal wherever you come from or whatever your background.
As with all hospital art, it will be viewed by the people who work there on a daily basis, or by people who are unwell or anxious. In the latter case, it is a very different experience than viewing art for pleasure, and one is likely to engage differently. To that end, it’s essential to soothe rather than challenge, to comfort rather than provoke, and to ensure any subject or colour doesn’t confuse or distress when tolerance levels are at a minimum. A red Rothko in a museum is a very different piece than a Rothko in a hospital—red being the only colour we totally avoided in the colour spectrum, as a potentially violent colour, with unfortunate connotations for a hospital.
Most of your art focuses on highly-detailed hand-cut works, describe the inspiration and process of the most intricate work you’ve created?
AB: My cutouts are very labour intensive, but I hope they don’t feel it. I recently made a pair of white cutouts, each 2.5m wide, and you have to be in the right mindset to make them. Years ago, I spent weeks working on a cutout only to ruin it in a moments lack of concentration, which is something you only want to do once.
Painting is the first medium in your artistic repertoire; how does the process of painting compare to cutout works? What’s your favourite painting?
AB: Making a cutout is a very different process than painting as everything is planned and drawn out precisely beforehand as you can’t change things as you go. I spend a great deal of time planning the image, layering various source materials, and then cut with a surgical scalpel. Painting is more forgiving but a more chaotic and complex process, and as such you are always learning and striving. I don’t have a favourite painting, but I am always most involved with the current work on my easel. Many paintings are significant to me, none of which I still own, except a piece that I made for my wife when we met.
You were once on the cover of a magazine, featured as of one London’s Rising Stars?
AB: Well spotted—yes, that was a fun day. It was shot in a London park with a young Tom Hardy and Sienna Miller. ES magazine comes out each Friday and is read by just about everyone in London, so to be on the cover early on in my career was a great opportunity.
You’ve met a few of the Windsor household of late, how and why, do tell?
AB: The Queen opened Royal Papworth Hospital late last year. In my opinion, the UK is lucky to have her—she gave an address recently during the COVID-19 crisis, which did more for public morale than anything else. Late last year, I donated an artwork for an exhibition at Christie’s to raise money for the children’s charity WellChild and met Harry and Megan privately to discuss art and the charity. I thought they were both lovely.
After this little chinwag, all I can think about is a trip back to England to visit my parents, with a few days in London to relish the art scene. Sounds so simple, but nothing is so simple these days, but thankfully we can all enjoy art from afar since it’s perfect for our positive moods and mental health. Perhaps I’ll dress in orange during isolation! Do visit Adam online!