It’s not very often, when checking out an artist’s website, that we’re treated to a pretty straightforward list of influences, but New York-based artist Adam Handler’s “things that make me tick” page is pretty great. Inspired by an array of things, including the work of Goya and Gauguin, bats, Bob Dylan, Bill Murray, his family (and the family cat Smokey), Handler’s work is diverse, Outsider-ish, savvy and worldly at the same time. I’ve always been most interested in the ideas and narratives behind the work as a way of bringing them into the world, boosted in a way. So I’m very happy to share some of his work and a few thoughts here!
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YS: Where are you from originally? Where are you based now?
AH: I predominately grew up on Long Island, the suburbs of NYC. As an adult I lived in several places around NYC, but now have permanently moved my studio out of NYC to a barn in Armonk, NY (about 30 miles north of Manhattan).
What do you find the most exciting thing about making your art in that part of the world?
I never really thought about producing art in a certain area, maybe because I have always lived in NY and never anywhere else. Its an interesting question and I wonder if perhaps I came from another state to NY my work would change.
On the flip side, what has been the most challenging aspect of that? What do you need most as an artist?
I think every artist needs different things depending on their ambitions and medium. I knew collage artists that worked solely from a desk and sculptors who had an entire estate to produce their work. A challenging part for working and living in NY is space. NY is definitely short on affordable studio space. That is one of the main reasons for moving my studio out of NYC. My paintings are very large-scale and working in a 120 square foot space in NYC was challenging to say the least. My space now is 650 square feet barn with plenty of outdoor space, so logistically things became a bit easier.
Can you tell me a bit about your process? How do you get started on a piece? Where do you get your ideas from?
Sometimes I wonder where I get my ideas from. I have been inspired by film, music and other artists but my biggest inspiration is usually the events that take place in my life. I tend to start on a work in a traditional manner. I work out the kinks on paper with many preparatory studies and then expand to larger works on canvas.
Who or what are some of your major influences?
My major personal influences are my wife, Kelly. We have been together since I was 18 and that is also when I decided to pursue a career as an artist, which needless to say has been a roller coaster of a ride. My artistic influences and loves are probably too many to name but I will list my top 10. Willem De Kooning, Basquiat, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel, Brancusi, Richard Prince, Georg Baselitz and Cy Twombly.
There are some recurring images in your work, such as flowers or bats, and distinctive female figures. How did you land on these? Is there any particular significance?
Yes, the female figure has been my longest and most evolving subject. Their is something very classical and timeless about representing the female nude. It’s a way for me to build upon this artistic tradition in art history. The style of women took many years of experimentation to create The bats came about after contemplating my career as an artist after dealing with a gallery that lets just say wasn’t operating with honest business practices. I sat outside with a glass of wine and felt so defeated…I put my head back and tons of bats were fluttered and circling above me. The inspiration hit me so hard that I dusted myself off and started paintings a series of bat painting which became very successful series for me.
What is your studio atmosphere like? Any rituals or routines, music you listen to, etc?
My studio can be quite chaotic. For the most part the floor is covered in paint, works on paper scattered all over and paintings stacked. The one empty was usually has works in progress stapled to the sheet rock. When I’m working I rarely listen to music or have anyone around me. I get very into my own head and tend to tune out the world while painting.
I noticed that you earned your BA in art history; what led you to painting?
I chose to study art history because I felt that I would learn more about the work that came before me therefore I can build upon the previous artists. I painted throughout studying art history and actually took enough drawing and sculpture courses and considered getting a BFA. I think for me it was the right decision as from the start my work always had a feel of outsider but an informed outsider.
You’ve got a few shows under your belt at this point; do you have any advice for someone just getting started exploring an art path? Anything you know now that you wish you would have known when you were just getting started?
Well it’s not easy and you need to have a very tough skin. Unlike other careers you can’t just get a degree and apply for a job which is frustrating and perhaps the greatest thing about being an artist. One needs to believe in the work they are creating and not create to please others but to please yourself. I see so many artists these days who create one body of successful work and fear straying from it as it may not be as liked or be judged by others. Also be careful on who you decide to work with, whether dealer or gallery you must go with your gut, and protect yourself and your work.
More work and information can be found at adamhandlerstudio.com.
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