Adam5100 has been working with a spray can since his days as a teenage graffiti writer living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Confessing that his early tagging was “the blight of society,” Adam5100 has since become one of the Bay Area’s most talented young painters. Spark joins the artist as he prepares for an exhibition at the White Walls Gallery by “layering the stencils of life.”
When Adam5100 reached his early 20s, he realized that he could accomplish more complex graffiti pieces, including large-scale images of faces and hands, in the same amount of time it took him to spray-paint a tag. In 2000, after abandoning tagging as a street activity, Adam5100 relocated to San Francisco and began training at the California College of the Arts. Positioning himself in the discipline of painting and printmaking, he realized that his prior graffiti work had a place in the world of fine art. He has stated that it was his exposure to painting, printmaking and fine art photography that was the impetus for his journey toward his current art practice. Placing his work squarely between these three disciplines, Adam5100 has taken on the challenging and complex issue of the urban landscape.
Feeling more at home in the hidden places than in the public, Adam5100 often explores the back alleys, forgotten streets and forbidden rooftops of the East Bay, photographing spaces as reference for new paintings. The importance of his private journeys are evident in each painting, each of which intimately reveals the forgotten elements of society and the struggle to find a sense of place. By shifting gallery goers’ attention to the forgotten spaces of urban centers, his work sheds light on parts of a city most would not see while retaining the subversive mischief of a graffiti artist.
Holding steady to his street sense of humor, Adam5100 often invents contemporary narratives in his work, a kind of fake pop culture similar to cheap tabloid news. His painting of baseball legend Nolan Ryan’s house and another of an Italian soccer fan leaving the scene of a crime are prime examples of how Adam5100 plays with humor, history and consumer culture.
Adam5100 pays homage to his graffiti contemporaries by using layers of hand-cut stencils to create layers of value. Making a stencil painting is a laborious process, requiring intense dedication and an enormous amount of time, all to create elements that remain hidden from the viewer. Twelve or more complex stencils are painstakingly cut for different values and colors of the painting; the end result endows the final piece with the illusion of three dimensions. Although stencils have been used for thousands of years as a means to reproduce images, Adam5100 turns the process on its side by integrating so many of his stencils into one single piece. In this respect, the work is much more closely related to the quick delivery of graffiti writing than fine art printmaking, in which the edition is the revered method of production.