Streaming sunlight and a genuine smile greet me at Shonagh Adelman’s corner studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The artist offers me mango-flavored fizzy water. I accept. “Protect What’s Precious” demands her graphic tee. African masks, printed video stills, and tubs of acrylic medium line the shelves under large windows. Crystal beads of every color sit in jars on the ground where she’s been working on filling out an image: this one shows a topless woman with a sock monkey’s head, set against kitschy, floral wallpaper. It will stay there on the floor for at least a month as she meticulously applies beads to the canvas. She’s been experimenting with fabric scraps for this piece as well.
“It starts with a couple of images that I play around with on the computer. Then it gets printed, and then it gets crystallized.“
Adelman looks for potentially interesting juxtapositions in imagery and materials she’s drawn to. A clown, a significant locale, and a political image could provide, together, commentary on an influential and formative cultural issue. Sometimes the source is transparent, other times it isn’t: A form might be unrecognizably sourced from pornography or an erotic comic. Crystals, which have recently become somewhat of a signature medium for Adelman, illuminate and exaggerate these borrowed images. Satirical, theatrical decadence is result.
“The crystals were sort of an accident. I had a lamp that was made of fabric and every time I opened the door it would go into itself. I was trying to figure out a way to weigh it down so it wouldn’t get all tangled like that, so I thought I would sew a strand of crystals around the perimeter. I didn’t know what kind of crystals to use so I ordered all these crystals, and suddenly I had this excess. Then I just started playing with this new medium, and it grew into a monster, basically. No, literally!”
From her earliest works, Shonagh has challenged the limitations of traditional painting and has investigated pictures with a feminist lens. A few years ago she worked on an “exquisite corpse” series, using the surrealist exercise as the base for diverse compositions that were both fragmented in content and physically disjointed, between stretched canvas and direct wall appliqué. Now Adelman uses tablets to enrich many of her collages. Rather than separating elements by the thickness of the stretcher, the videos present a contrast of duration, breaking the bounds of flat canvas. The artist’s compositions become a meditative experience, rather than a straight-forward riff on advertising. Videos draw the viewer in, inviting them to examine the seemingly fragile crystalline surface and its out-of-focus image.
Taking one of her devices from its charger and slipping it into the Velcro insert on the canvas’ backside, the artist tells me about her experiments with tablets. “I started playing around with them about a year ago. The tablets are glass and the material is glass, so there’s consistency, but they’re also high definition, against this kind of static image.” She gets a bit giddy over a video of bubbling mud that replaces the faces of two men talking in a piece entitled The Conversation. “This one’s got good plop to it.”
We talk seventies performance art, Sofia Coppola, internet avatars, dreamed-up installations. “I’m always trying to surprise myself, to do something that will be exciting for me,” She tells me, but it would have gone without saying.
Shonagh Adelman has exhibited at distinguished institutions and galleries including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Aldrich Museum, Fuller Museum, Linda Kirkland Gallery, Gallery Nine5 and Black Square Gallery, among others, and has work in the permanent collections of SFMOMA and the National Museum for Women in the Arts. Starting October 30th, many of these works will be on view at Denise Bibro Gallery for a two-person exhibition featuring Adelman and artist Sui Park. Go and get your crystal fix.