“Abstraction focuses on a private world,” muses Erica H. Adams in “Spirit in the Dark,” an exhibition of 23 small watercolors at the Moakley Federal Courthouse through March 30. For the first five months of the pandemic, following the March 2020 lockdown, Adams stayed at home in Mashpee, on Cape Cod. “Having no new experiences and thus reliving old experiences,” she endured the anxiety, disorientation, loneliness and frustration by painting an ongoing series of small abstract works on paper.
A Tufts University/School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Museum School Traveling Scholar, Adams had been a post-Modernist innovator who experimented with combinatory photographic technologies before the days of Photoshop, creating collaged, juxtaposed and superimposed imagery in the service of cultural critique. She exhibited widely in the 1970s, ‘80s and beyond. In addition to teaching at the SMFA, she has written on topics of photography, new media, video and glass. Living alone from March through August of 2020 threatened her with repetition and stagnation. It was through music and a return to watercolor’s simplified process that Adams was able to re-enter her artmaking.
Throughout that spring, Adams listened nightly to pianist Chick Corea’s live-streamed jazz sessions. While he practiced and talked before thousands of viewers, she drew and painted at her kitchen table. Following a Tantric discipline, she limited herself to producing a single work in a single sitting. After an intense session that took all evening, she did not go back. The resulting sixty-plus paintings memorialize her moods, thoughts and reactions during a time of personal extremity and dramatic social change.