Sylvie Adams’ abstract artwork is intriguing, mysterious and even hypnotizing. When you look at it, you aren’t sure where to start and therefore, don’t know when to stop! The pops of colors make it lively just enough not to feel overwhelming. Her artwork is calming yet, has evident character. Who knew abstract work can feel so complete?Canadian artist Adams was born in New Brunswick but Montreal has always been her real home.
Her work has been seen at impressive art shows such as Art Wynwood and Context Miami. Internationally, her paintings have been showcased in Greece, Hong Kong, and London! Impressive overall, we were lucky to catch up with Sylvie in the interview you can read below.
What has been your most memorable experience and what are you the proudest of thus far as a professional fine artist?
I think my most memorable experience so far as an artist, was to be selected to be part of a special exhibition in honor of Shepard Fairey. Also known as Obey Giant, Shepard Fairy is a well-known street artist, activist, and illustrator, who became extremely popular during the 2008 U.S. presidential election for his Barack Obama “Hope” poster. Last February, he was awarded the Art Wynwood Tony Goldman Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award 2017, in Downtown Miami.
To celebrate this achievement, a small exhibition was held. This exhibition was curated by Grela Orihuela, the Art Wynwood Contemporary Art Fair’s Director. She selected the work of about eight artists among all the artists represented at the Art Wynwood Fair (close to 500 hundred international artists – imagine!), to be exhibited beside an iconic work of Shepard Fairey. Beside Shepard Fairey, there was Tim Bessell x Andy Warhol, David Ramirez Gomez, Craig Alan and Maria Grondona. Two of my paintings were selected for the exhibition. It was such an honor to have my work selected by a curator of Mrs. Orihuela’s experience and shown beside such great artists!
Why did you decide to study architecture and then go back to being a fine artist (in terms of studies and career)? Does architecture affect your work as an artist (how)?
Well, I always wanted to be an artist. But being pragmatic, I wanted to be able to feed myself properly too… So I compromised by entering Concordia University in a BFA, with a major in Design and a minor in Visual Arts. But being very curious by nature, I always wanted to know how things were built. And a Master in Architecture seemed a good way to find out. You see, I seem to have a split personality – there is the artist, very lyrical and creative and which had a ball in Concordia and there is this rational being, who wants to know how things are put together and what forces are holding them up, and of which molecules they are made… My Master in Architecture helped me tremendously there and certainly made me a better designer.
But after a career in design of close to fifteen years, I still had this yearning that would not go away. This impression that my life was missing an important part of who I was. So I decided to leave my design career and focus entirely on being an artist. And although at times it has been really difficult, I’m very happy with my decision.
The influence of these studies and this work in design and architecture on my artistic practice is a bit tortuous in a funny way. It seems that having to reflect a vision into a reality that would hold together with the laws of physics, made me use the rational part of my brain too much. As an artist, I wanted to express myself in a different way, with more freedom and emotion, to create something that does not exist, that has no barrier, no limit, nor any kind of realistic representation. But I cannot escape who I am, and, in my abstract works, you have a feeling of depth, and of a third dimension that comes from architecture. And as much as I try to express my emotions freely without the censure of the brain, I find that there is a rational aspect to my paintings, a certain balance, a conscious choice of the mind.
Your abstract work is hypnotizing – what materials do you use and what do you prefer painting on and why?
Well, that is also part of my heritage with architecture and design. I had to learn chemistry, and what materials are made of, to ensure good conservation and long-lasting objects. So in my paintings, I have this fascination with the materiality of paint. I love to work with solvents to bring the paint to different textures and weights, and to see how it will mix, drip and flow together. This has brought a lot of experimentation, in which the fluidity of the paint is counterbalanced with other materials to provide different pictural effects. I use time and gravity a lot – in a very conscious way – so the drippings are not as random as you think they would be, and are as much part of the work as the marks I leave with a brush. But it is mainly acrylics, India ink and spray paint. I sometimes use collage or markers, depending on the piece I’m working on. I love working on wood panels as the paint becomes very buttery. It’s a feeling you don’t have with other surfaces. But I also love to do big pieces, and as wood panels are very heavy, it became impractical to work and I switched to canvas.
I read that you traveled a lot throughout your life – do you want to share one of your best memories in a foreign place?
Well, I could not pinpoint one favorite memory of my travels. They seem to be the foundation of what I express on canvas, and as experiences lived, they formed who I am. I love the discovery of new things, the learning of new languages and cultures, and the new experiences.
Considering you are from New Brunswick, why did you decide to establish yourself in Montreal as a visual artist?
It seems to have been serendipity. My Dad was in the army and as such, we moved around quite a lot. I was born in New-Brunswick but did not live there very long. Montreal was the city where we stayed the longest, and where we lived at the time when I was entering university. Concordia University was one of the best universities in the Visual Arts field in Canada. It was easy for me to decide to stay here and make Montreal my home.
What are your daily inspirations as an abstract painter?
As my painting is intuitive and process driven, it relies a lot on the power of the subconscious. And what nourishes my subconscious is what I live every day. So you could say that my inspiration as an artist is found in anything I see, feel, or do. With time, those experiences amalgamate and coalesce into something new. My work then is to make it happen on the canvas without losing the magic. I’ve found that if I overthink a piece, it does not work. So I have to create a state of mind where I can get in touch with my subconscious without censure and where spontaneity is the name of the game. It involves a lot of risk-taking and you learn to live with what you consider “mistakes”. And this is where serendipity comes into play. Sometimes those mistakes become “happy mistakes” as you discover new effects. You then integrate this new experimentation so your work is incremental and constantly evolving.
Why did you decide to study fine art and become an artist?
It seems that I did not “decide” to become an artist. It was always a part of who I was. It was natural for me to study Fine Arts, and the creative side of my personality was always there, even when I was working in design. I just had to do a lot of work on myself – and it took some time, to learn who I really was, and to embrace it fully.