Adam Mars can paint a lot of different ways, from hyper-crisp luminous abstraction, to richly textured brick and plaster surfaces, to convincing trompe l’oeil illusions and perfectly rendered fonts and typeface mimicry. His aesthetic influences range from 18th-century classics to 20th-century art theory to the daily flood of love and hate on Twitter. But Mars is at his most interesting when he combines one or more of these dexterities into something greater than the sum of these parts.
My Favorite Color Is Red Flag is on view at River Gallery this month — an offbeat gallery space in Echo Park which is its own journey’s reward and the perfect location for Mars’ new body of work. River is a nifty white-box gallery in the lower backyard of a domestic residence. It presents contemporary art from L.A. and abroad (there’s a built-in residency structure for overseas artist guests) in a sweet patio garden that juxtaposes nature and culture in an intimate and charming setting. Perfect, because it echoes the effect of how these new paintings from Mars combine the too-much luxury of botanical textile prints with the modern pithiness of his micro-story slogan texts.
Made in the last year, with acrylic and spray paint on fabric panels, the paintings force-merge an almost sickly sense of decorativeness (the textiles) with the cheeky wit of texts for which Mars has become known. Where his previous series referred to street art by working on painstakingly rendered faux-brick grounds, or late actionism in his splash-and-pour works, these reach back to a time when lavish still life was a hallmark of serious art, and the specific blossoms included in a given floral bouquet contained secret embedded messages in the symbolic meanings of certain blossoms. Except there’s nothing secret or even subliminal in these works — it’s all right there on the surface if you’ve got just a little attention to spare. (Mars is a big believer in the less-is-more school of literature — twitterature? — in which two sentences is one too many.)
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Mars received his MFA from Otis College of Art and Design, graduating from a program that considered not only fine art but also fashion and design of equal creative and cultural value — a context that surely left an imprint on his aesthetic. That, combined with a desire to bring his creativity into alignment with existing cultural movements where he finds them, initially inspired these text-based paintings. But his recent evolution of the idiom sees him incorporating other cultural memes besides his stories — such as mixed media, found materials, recycling, and snarky, autobiographical, hilarious and heartfelt jest. That wit extends to the inclusion of illusionistic folds and slashes, which make the fabric, first transformed into the semblance of a painted canvas, through the agency of paint, transform back into fabric. It’s a neat trick, and just one of many Mars has up his sleeves.