Jim Adams is probably the one local artist you don’t know that you should know. He is warm, humble and refreshingly straightforward about his artwork. From his Corvallis home studio, Adams has created a robust portfolio of illustrations that stretch the imagination as layer upon layer of details sinks in, the longer one examines them. However, his refreshingly non-pretentious manner and reluctance to self-promote betrays his prolific and thorough style that has developed over damn near forty years of life and experience.
His work—mainly graphite drawings, watercolors and other colorful paintings—are surrealistic and wildly imaginative landscapes that Adams channels to paper without much deliberation at all. Imagine if Maurice Sendak and Gary Larson had a baby…well if their illustrations had a baby, I mean.
With Adams’ art there are no pretentious undercurrents or rambling existential artist statements. They are simply weird, exotic representations like a Talking Heads song or a Terry Gilliam movie. They speak for themselves without a need for unraveling deep meaning or forcing a social justification. That is how Adams seems to cultivate his work—to just have fun, express himself and sell a few pieces along the way.
Adams has lived in Corvallis since he was in his late twenties. He grew up in Los Angeles, California, moved his way up the Northern California Coast and finished college at Humboldt State in Arcata. After a brief stint at a commune in Hood River, Adams and his wife Michele eventually landed in Corvallis in 1979.
Adams’ father was an amateur cartoonist, emulating the likes of Li’l Abner and other cartoons of the 1950’s and 60’s. But Adams took it more seriously than did his father and eventually pursued a career in illustration through college. Ultimately he worked his way up to creating book cover designs for mail-order magazines like Mysteries By Mail as well as Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which was a collection of short fictional crime stories.
Working as an illustrator produced meaningful work for Adams as he developed professionally but didn’t allow him to pursue his personal artwork. At some point, however, Adams began exhibiting his work around the Pacific Northwest and people began purchasing Adams’ expressive renderings privately. Never one to take much stock in explaining the meaning behind his work, his illustrations evolved spontaneously with narratives that take shape on the spot. His work slowly developed a complexity with a level of detail that can be seen with a more careful examination. Adams explains that his clients love his work for what it is and often are repeat buyers.
But selling artwork hasn’t necessarily been his sole means of income. Having kids also necessitated finding gainful employment. Since coming to Corvallis in 1979, Adams worked as a carpenter, built houses, worked at a print shop, illustrated book covers, and taught art as an adjunct instructor at OSU and Linn-Benton. As of recently, he worked alongside his wife and his two daughters at the First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op for a dozen years or so. During that time, the one thing that remained constant was his artwork.
Now in his retirement, Adams actually finds less time to tinker with drawings, instead tending to the grandkids two days of the week and completing other domestic tasks. Despite that, Adams has built up a healthy contingent of private buyers and collectors.
Although Adams has sold a lot of art over the years, placed in regional shows, and exhibited from Cannon Beach to Seattle, Adams is not one to cruise the festival circuits nor endlessly promote his work. He is a local gem, an underdog of sorts in Corvallis’ art community. His work is unique, interesting, and he shows no signs of stopping. This last point is one to be excited about since, in case you haven’t heard, you should go see this stuff for yourself.
By Chris McDowell