Under-appreciated musicians of the past were resurrected in D.C. native and artist Terry Adkins’ colloquium at the Katzen Arts Center “Inside Out.”
In a gallery talk about his new colloquium on Jan. 29, Adkins described how he mixes sculpture, video and spoken word through installation-based “recitals” and philosophy.
Despite going through adolescence as an African-American during the culturally divisive time of the 60s, the 66-year-old doesn’t let issue of race dictate his work. The artist’s focus is on human experience. In fact, Adkins attributes his obscurity to his staying away from more extreme depictions of African-American culture, such as black face.
While combining music with static media is the artist’s signature, his motivation for a piece is often what makes it resonate. “Inside Out,” mixes his often-present motifs of music and morality to create what he describes as a “penance piece.”
The installation features a chest full of identical copies of a record; the work came to fruition after Adkins stole the record as a teenager and subsequently bought another copy each time he had the opportunity. Adkins is an international exhibitor, a professor of design at the University of Pennsylvania and member of a “secret society of like-minded individuals,” according to Adkins.
“Staying on the surface of race won’t get you noticed,” Adkins said. “I refuse to succumb to a system that usurps and regenerates it [race].”
Adkins strays from convention in other ways. He isn’t a performance artist but rather an “orchestrator of events,” directing performers, often college students because of their “edge of unpredictability.” He doesn’t work with found objects because the material is malleable and made into something new; he sits with an object before understanding how it will be used, so that the “piece makes itself.”
Adkins was brought up Catholic, so religious undertones are present in much of his work. The artist’s massive 18-foot handmade trumpets represent the angel’s instrumentation on Judgment Day. A piece that synthesizes many of Adkins themes is the artist’s “Still,” which combines steel, wood, glass and whiskey, which fills half of an enclosed circular glass on top of the other combined materials, to reflect the rituals surrounding alcohol in church versus the “juke joint,” a bar featuring music played on a jukebox that was often reserved for African-Americans.
Adkins also discussed “Columbia,” a mirror covered in 166 coats of paint, a layer for each record blues singer Bessie Smith recorded under the company’s contract. Adkins offers one piece viewers are permitted to touch, believing it will deter them from touching work they’re not supposed to — an homage to Jimi Hendrix through a series of photographs inspired by the musician’s brief time serving as a paratrooper.