Richard Adams – the interview

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The Congregation

Richard Adams agreed to be interviewed just before his new exhibition opened at Rye Art Gallery on April 6. I found him in his studio in the High Street which has a commanding view over the Salts and the River Rother.

He was in the middle of assembling the three dozen works selected for exhibition and stacks of prepared picture frames surrounded the room.

The artist in his studio

Richard Adams’ work is instantly recognisable. There is a deceptive innocence about the scenes of rustic and domestic life that he depicts, full of whimsical fantasy. There is no plot, no beginning or end, each painting is a scenario at a point in time, with an ambiguity which invites the viewer to decide what is going on. “There are different levels in each picture, serious elements mixed with the comedy. If you get too serious and philosophical, you’ll probably kill the picture stone dead.”

To take one example which is on display: his picture of The Congregation takes its inspiration from people going by boat to church on Holy Island off the coast of Northumberland, but this is then transmuted by imagination into a different age. The immediate post-war period of the 1950s seems to hold for him a fascination with its now classic motorcars, its steam-trains and its style of dress.

If he has an affinity with this period, it is not one filled with nostalgia. He is well aware that life then was far from idyllic for most people. However, he clearly expresses his sense of association with the English countryside which he came to love from his 1960s childhood in Wiltshire. Coupled with this is a deep appreciation of English vernacular architecture, particularly resonant with the Rye hilltop townscape, which he clearly loves.

As an artist, he has a strong commercial instinct; he needs to sell in order to feed his family. Having identified, if you like, his place in the market, he recognises the need to take the public with him and to meet their expectation. He has a radical streak waiting to break out but is wary about going to far ahead of his following. Yet he is brimful of new ideas. “Rye is such a source of inspiration that ideas for pictures come thick and fast,” he said.

Richard Adams Exhibition poster

He works in chalk pastels which have the advantage of being a dry medium and allow him to work quickly. Working horizontally across the top of the blank sheet, his images take shape as he works down the painting. His studio is full of reference books which he consults in order to achieve authentic detail of buildings or gardens.

The completed work is then veneered to give a richness of tone and colour so characteristic of his work. He describes starting on a new work and getting on a creative roll, engaging what he terms “muscle memory” which is almost subconscious such as a musician might experience.

Richard trained as an illustrator at Leicester Polytechnic and then lived and worked in London for 12 years before coming to Rye in 1994. His family are all artists; his wife Jane Beecham is a print-maker, their elder daughter, Evie, a self employed illustrator and their younger daughter, Fern is a student at Camberwell College of Arts.
The exhibition is in gallery 3 of Rye Art Gallery from April 6 and continues until May 5.

Image Credits: Richard Adams, Kenneth Bird.

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