Corvallis Nonbinary Artist Erin MacAdams

Erin MacAdams is, in their own words, “a queer nonbinary artist living in the Mid-Willamette Valley.” With a BFA from Eastern Michigan University, the artist has focused on drawing and mixed media.  

In Oregon, they have expanded their expression to tattoo art and became open to new technologies and materials. Working with a local trans-led non-profit Mid-Willamette Trans Support Network has been a part of the artist’s life. They also garden, read, and spend time with their wife and cats. 

The Art Center in Corvallis has organized the MacAdams exhibit — open until June 19. In the Center’s series Lunch At Home, museum curator Hester Coucke interviews the artist and presents a slide show of MacAdams work for those who can not venture out to see it in person.

The Advocate asked the artist a few questions about their exhibit titled Art is Political and Personal. 

Advocate: In your interview with Hester Coucke, you mentioned that you think a lot about gender. What does gender mean to you? And is there reflection of your approach to gender in your art, beyond obvious LGBTQI+ symbols and androgynous faces?  

MacAdams: Gender is an important part of my life as a nonbinary individual. Gender is such a varied experience. I can only talk about gender for myself. As a part of the trans and gender nonconforming community I have found gender to be different for every individual. I just hope viewers are able to question where they stand on the subject of gender. And hopefully appreciate how others experience gender differently from you. 

Advocate: In the name of your exhibit, you are emphasizing the personal and political relevance of your art. While most of us realize that art is personal, please talk about the political aspect of your art. What kind of message is intended for the audience? 

MacAdams: My art is political because I feel it is so important for people to see art from all different perspectives. Because I am part of the LGBTQ community, I want others to see that I am thriving and maybe see a reflection of their experience. 

Advocate: Please tell us about your evolution as an artist. 

MacAdams: I’ve drawn as long as I can remember. I have a Bachelor of Fine Art in drawing. I did so much Figure Drawing during that time. I work as a tattoo artist, and I am very inspired by that world. I’ve mixed a lot of influences into a surrealist style that has a lot of personal symbolism.  

Lately I’ve been very interested in color, especially bright palettes. I love to work digitally more. I also work in acrylic, colored pencil, watercolor and ink.  

Advocate: In your art pieces in this show there’s a theme of elf-like ears. Please tell us about the symbolism of the triangular ear.  

MacAdams: I include a lot of references and symbolism from fantasy art in my art. I read so much fantasy as a teenager, so that is a big influence. This past year or so I’ve gotten interested in Dungeons and Dragons. I love to create elf characters. I just identify with that type of character.  

Advocate: In your collection there’s a piece with an image of the Notre Dame Cathedral, called “Burn.”  Please talk about the inspiration for this image.

MacAdams: Honestly, I painted the part of the canvas with Notre Dame a few years ago. I like to recycle pieces of art into new work. I liked the color palette and dreamy vibe. The piece is about not arson but dreaming and consciousness. 

Advocate: There is a round picture titled “Star,” where a person has two sets of horns and a star image on the necklace. What inspired this piece?   

MacAdams: This is another example of fantasy art references. But this painting is also a kind of self-portrait as an alter ego. It’s a way to feel powerful as an alter ego.  

Advocate: What is the feeling or idea that created “Essential”? It looks like it’s very timely and topical with the masked “David” and the plague-era physician. Who is the girl in the middle?

MacAdams: I created Essential in the spring of 2020. I was working a job that was called essential — even though that job was recreating merchandising displays. The figure in the middle is a representation of how without a safety net I felt at the time. I put that figure in a green apron because I worked as a barista for a long time. I was just thinking about everyone who was being forced to put themselves and their families at risk for Covid. The buildings in the foreground are referenced from looking at a plague hospital in Italy via google maps. 

By Joanna Rosińska