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New to the Collection: Lisa Adams

About the artist

There is a compelling narrative element in Lisa Adams’s paintings that connects to her personal journey as an artist and the resolve and commitment she brings to her work. I think we can all identify with her and the challenges she sets herself – the desire to pursue and attain our goals.
— UQ Art Museum Curator Samantha Littley

Lisa Adams’s self-referential paintings reflect the contradictions and incongruities she finds in life. Born in Adelaide in 1969, Adams began painting at 19 and is self-taught. Each of her meticulous compositions are months in the making and are crafted from multiple sources, including photographs taken by her or her husband, photographer Kim Guthrie. Adams also scours electronic archives, libraries and bookshops to locate images that suit her purpose.1 Her processes recall the approach of Photorealists such as the American Chuck Close (1940–) who, in the 1960s and 1970s, conscripted photographs as the basis for their paintings.

While grounded in reality, Adams’s frequently fantastical imagery has seen her work compared with Surrealism. She concedes the link but is not particularly comfortable with it. Rather, she says, her paintings reflect her ‘feelings and experience of the world’ and are all ‘individual statements of a self portrait.’2 The artworks that emerge through her methodical techniques are magical incarnations of Adams’s encounters with her world, which revolves around the Noosa hinterland where she lives.

Lisa has been painting for more than twenty-five years. Her work was the focus of a solo exhibition at the Institute of Modern Art in 2000, and she shows regularly at Phillip Bacon Galleries. I’ve been aware of Lisa’s practice for some time through a body of work that was shown at the Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art in the exhibition Contemporary Australia: Optimism (2008–2009), and through another painting by her in The University of Queensland Art Collection, Sparrow 2009. Like Dig, Sparrow is an introspective painting. It is an allegory for the obstacles she encounters in making art.”
— UQ Art Museum Curator Samantha Littley

About the work acquired

There is a strange focus or intensity about the figures [in Adams’s paintings] as they grimly go about their tasks … They rarely, if at all, acknowledge their audience. This gives Adams’s work a lack of self-consciousness that is undoubtedly one of its strengths … For those figures carrying out these meaningless tasks are, of course, stand-ins for the painter herself, and the bizarre transformations that occur in her works are all ultimately metaphors for what happens to the paint itself.”3
— Associate Professor Rex Butler, Reader in Art History, UQ

Lisa Adams’s work frequently references the difficulties she encounters as a highly realist painter: ‘Painting comes with its problems but for me they are personal problems. My paintings never come easily . . . every day I’ve come to realise the endurance required to keep going.’4

In Dig 2011 she reflects on the process of art making, and her place in the canon of art history. She has painted herself working in the dust at the bottom of an archaeological dig gently sweeping away debris with a fine paintbrush. Having endured this painstaking task, she has revealed a skeleton that also holds a paintbrush in its lifeless hand. The bristles of the two brushes touch in a manner that recalls the iconic fresco The creation of Adam c. 1511–1512, which Renaissance master Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564) painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Rome, over the course of four years.

Through this gesture, Adams accepts a metaphorical baton – the impetus to create art – as though passed down to her through the ages. The painting also functions as a double self-portrait, in which the skeleton that mirrors Adams’s pose acts as a memento mori, or meditation on death, reminding us of the passing of time and the artist’s own mortality.

Adapted from text by Emily Poore, Curatorial Assistant and Samantha Littley, Curator, January 2015.

1. Lisa Adams, in Ingrid Periz, “Lisa Adams: Outside in,” Art Collector 48 (June 2008),, 128.
2. Ibid.
3. Rex Butler, in ibid., 133.
4. Adams, in Periz, “Lisa Adams: Outside in,” 132.

Lisa Adams 1969 ‑ Dig 2011 oil on canvas 68.5 x 100.5 cm Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2015. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane. Photo: Carl Warner

Lisa Adams 1969 ‑
Dig 2011
oil on canvas
68.5 x 100.5 cm
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2015.
Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane.
Photo: Carl Warner

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