Editors' pick

Exercise Your Mynd: BK Adams I AM ART

Mixed Media
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Exercise Your Mynd: BK Adams I AM ART photo
BK Adams/Photo by Michael O'Sullivan | More photos
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Editorial Review

A playful state of mynd

By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Sept. 23, 2011

It's good to see art again on the walls of the Anacostia Community Museum. Over the past decade or so, the visual arts have made only sporadic appearances at this Ward 8 outpost of the Smithsonian, with an exhibition program focusing primarily on African American history and culture. But recently, painting and sculpture have come roaring back with the loud, lively and engaging "Exercise Your Mynd: BK Adams I Am Art."

You may be aware of Adams without knowing his work. Images of the Washington painter's bearded, bespectacled and beret-clad mug can be found in every ward of the city, on small black-and-white stickers that the artist has left on lampposts and other surfaces. You'll recognize him by the enigmatic caption "I Am Art," which is both a terse statement of Adams's artistic philosophy and an informal extension of his name (hence the show's strange-sounding title).

"I Am Art" is also a fairly straightforward physical description of Adams, who, during an entertaining walk-through of the show, wore a pair of red pants and a shirt so spattered with paint that they resembled an abstract canvas, along with what looked like a silver hard hat.

Adams's art is exuberant and idiosyncratic, yet accessible. Visual references to bicycles, airplanes and the number three abound (see "The Story Behind the Work"), as does the recurring image of a teetering stack of books, topped precariously with a wooden chair. The latter motif, which the artist calls his "city mountain," appears again and again here, both in painted and in sculptural form. Some visitors may recall having seen one on the street, without knowing what it was. Over the years, Adams has been known to leave "city mountains" in vacant lots, including a towering 20-foot version.

It's a succinct visual metaphor for using your brain to lift yourself up, and it provides the show with its main title and true theme.

For Adams - whose work can evoke the squiggles of Jackson Pollock, the graffiti-like scribbles of Jean-Michel Basquiat and African figuration, all topped with a healthy sense of humor and play that keeps the work from seeming derivative - art is an integral part of life. The artist incorporates toys, metal gates and other found objects in his paintings, one of which mixes vintage house paint, scavenged from a defunct hardware store, with more traditional art supplies. That last piece, called "An Artist Makes a World," is one of the most beautiful objects in the show. Resembling a giant map of a fanciful world, it serves as a powerful reminder that art is more than mere decoration. In Adams's persuasive view, we don't just look at art, but live in it.

"Exercise Your Mynd" is the first of three back-to-back shows highlighting what Anacostia Community Museum curator Portia James calls the "genius on this side of the river." Under the umbrella of an initiative known as "Call and Response: Community and Creativity," the series will run through next summer, spotlighting visual and performing artists who live and/or work in Wards 7 and 8. (Based in Brookland, Adams recently vacated an Anacostia studio.)

Upcoming shows will spotlight the video animation studio Creative Junk Food; photographer Steven M. Cummings; the public art collective Albus Cavus; the Nu Flava tattoo parlor; progressive hip-hop musician Christylez Bacon; and several other local musical groups. According to James, the Anacostia Community Museum also hopes to better highlight its own permanent collection, which includes 400 objects.

Let's hope it's able to keep up the momentum - and the energy - that "Exercise Your Mynd" has brought.

The story behind 'Sky Riding'

Imagery related to bicycling and aviation figure prominently in BK Adams's art. The most notable example is his painting "Sky Riding," which features an actual two-wheeler, painted sky blue, that Adams affixed to the front of the canvas. The artist traces the inspiration for that mixed-media assemblage, and others like it, to a childhood gift.

When Adams was 8 years old, his aunt gave him a blue bicycle. It was, he recalls, "my vehicle that I was going to use to attempt flying." He means that quite literally. After taking it out for an inaugural - and, unfortunately, airborne - spin, the next thing he remembered was waking up in then-Children's Hospital, where, by his description, he spent two months "with something like 1,000 stitches" in his face.

For Adams then and today, the notion of flight meant freedom. The accident, he says, liberated him - permanently - from fear. It's fear, he says, that keeps people from the things they want, and an artist from true creativity.

Though Adams has been contemplating joining a hang-gliding group, despite his wife's objections, these days he stays grounded in the studio. Art, he explains, affords him a vehicle to express his soaring thoughts. Of his early brush with the law of gravity, "I've found safer ways to fly since then."

-- Michael O'Sullivan (Friday, Sept. 23, 2011)