Current version, fall 2022. Looks like it’s changing over time.
Adam Daley Wilson — Artist’s Statement Fall 2022
Pictures of words started tumbling out of my head at age 42 after a medicine change for my bipolar 1 mental illness. I wrote some down but did not think much of it.
As they kept coming, I liked how some sounded when I said them out loud. I started studying art history in books, learned there was text art, and a few years later applied to my first juried fair.
Most of my work is large, conceptual, and text-based. Oils or oil sticks. My hand shakes from twenty years of lithium, making a brush stroke my art friends call my “lithium signature.”
This is my process: It just falls out, then I research art history and more, as much as I can, then I work.
I paint in my narrow hallway where I live, two blocks from our art museum. I need my studio close because the painting comes fast.
The art is the process is me.
Once I was told, “your mind’s like a honeybee, you go from flower to flower, and then you make honey, like no one else, things no one else can see.” I like having a different mind, even as it needs twelve pills a day to treat. But the art is not about any of that. It’s about what I see.
I bet you and I see the same things. For a random reason, I just see them differently.
Substantive areas and references seem to keep expanding. It’s not intentional, I don’t direct it. It tumbles out. I don’t try to capture it, I try to release it honestly. I’ve learned to know when I do it right.
Starting about a year after the words, images of complex text paintings started coming too. These are cohesive narratives that look abstract. Some start in my mind for months, even a year, then suddenly I see what they look like and I work. Months in my head, then executed in minutes, broken oil sticks, blisters, sweat. That work feels very good and when done it feels exhausting.
The simple ones have many layers of meanings. The complex ones can have fifty, layers of materials too, and they connect things I’m told aren’t connected so far. As I learn, I see that may be right.
So if this work is your fix, you may not quite find it anywhere else.
It’s fine to use art words to discuss all this; they have their time and place. But simple words are best. Not just for concepts, feelings too. A piece a few years ago, some people said it made them weep. It had very simple words. It connected with emotion some of the deepest ideals that we articulate.
It tumbles out of my head, when my head is running high, and without my psychiatrist, artist friends, and the collector, gallerist, and mentor who found me, it would only be on some papers where I live. It comes and goes fast, sometimes thirty times a day. So some of it I write down.
This statement is my process too. It shows how I see and why I make it when it comes.
* * *
Prior version from early 2022.
I make conceptual text art. I’m a contemporary artist and I’m self-taught. My practice is evolving and multidisciplinary — it manifests in oil painting to new media to video to installations. My process is to capture my thoughts, feelings, impressions — “notions” — that come as words into my head. I rush to catch them and consider them. I think some are art and some are not.
The words that come out are ambiguous. You can interpret the different ways. I have dialogues in my head about them all the time. One meaning, then another, then another. They can be about anything, pop culture to philosophy to feelings to theory. They’re notions, that’s what I say — notions that almost always see a relation between very different things.
All of this happens in mild manias — hypomanias — arising from my bipolar 1, as diagnosed under the DSM-V. Bipolar 1 is the most severe among several types of bipolar disorders. When my Harvard-trained psychiatrist adjusted my meds in 2014, the words just started tumbling out. It’s been like this ever since. I see my job as vetting what comes. I’ve created over a dozen standards and tests that the language has to meet and pass before I’ll make the words a piece of art.
Just like it can be about any subject, it can be in many forms — narrative, documentary, even formal argument. And time — some are done in minutes, and some I need to think about for months. So I also see my job as to take these notions I vet and put them in the right medium and format that fits. I see relationals not just in the subjects that come out, but also in their mediums and forms and how fast their execution comes out.
As I said at the start, I’m self-taught. I was embarrassed by my art history ignorance when this started so I studied it as fast as I could. You’ll see influences most clearly of Holzer, Kruger, Ruscha, Wool, Twombly, Baldessari, Prince, Sugimoto, Sherman, and Kusama. And post-conceptualism, new genres, abstraction, expressionism, graffiti, street art, and, apparently, something I’ve heard of as the California School, but not much is showing up in my research. I have also been lucky to have art history mentors.
My hope and intent out of all of this — maybe there’s something useful in the unusual relations my mind sees. And I hope I get the chance to do this the rest of my life. What I’m doing, it is me.
. . .
Prior version from Mid 2021.
My statement is my story is my art.
The art started coming out in 2014, after a change in my meds, for my bipolar 1. It was unexpected. It was pictures of words, not regular pictures. At first I didn’t even know it was art. I worked hard to learn as much as I could, as fast as I could, because the words and ideas kept coming in different ways. I could not keep up at first.
Now I can keep up sometimes — and I think I see what’s happening, and I try to help. The pieces of art in my head are forming sentences; I see the start of paragraphs they’re making — paragraphs of art, not words. They’re bouncing off each other —I see dialogues, trialogues, and debate when I look at them, once they’re made.
They’re talking to each other. They’re not just each by themselves. They’re trying to get past some wall — I see them searching for new feelings and thoughts, new ways —so to help I’m searching too — but they haven’t figured it out yet. But they are going to. I’m working as hard as I can, as fast as I can, and my bipolar brain is, too. Most days I am on fire.
My best sense is that, by the end, they’re going to be a cohesive narrative, a single thesis, unifying, documenting. A twenty year statement. Not of words like these. A statement of two decades of hypomanic art that does not seem to see the world or feel it like anyone else.
My doctor tells me that bipolar 1 brains start to fade around 65 — the hypomanias burn down, the depressions take over. I had my worst one so far last year at 48. It was brutal. But I am going to push hard and make it until at least 65. So I am 5 years in as an artist so far, so 15 to 20 years left before it burns away, goes dark.
So I’m going to keep working hard every day until time is up. I have to. This is one of my meds. I need to do it to survive. Do you see now? My story is my statement is my illness is my art.
My name is Adam Daley Wilson. I know my art is not for everyone. Some say it is not even art. I may not be your fix. But if I am, you will not quite find me anywhere else.