Antonio Adams Gives Celebrities a Reality Check

See Unrealized and Unforeseen, Antonio Adams’ solo show at Thunder-Sky Inc., and leave feeling a bit more special, even if you aren’t on his list of “good celebrities,” superstars and Divas of Pride. Just witness the transformative power of art.

"Unrealized and Unforeseen Day" by Antonio Adams
"Unrealized and Unforeseen Day" by Antonio Adams

See Unrealized and Unforeseen, Antonio Adams’ solo show at Thunder-Sky Inc., and leave feeling a bit more special, even if you aren’t on his list of “good celebrities,” superstars and Divas of Pride. Just witness the transformative power of art.

As a co-founder of Visionaries & Voices and Thunder-Sky Inc., Adams transformed himself from a shy, lonely young man with a language disability into a confident leader who has shown in New York, Los Angeles and London. His mantra is to turn the negative into the positive. In this show, “bad celebrities” such as Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan get “unrealized,” or outcast, and Adams’ friends, fellow artists, relatives and Frisch’s co-workers receive “special treatment in the spotlight” that turns them into new celebrities.

U&U is part art exhibit/part reality show, featuring paintings, sculpture, jewelry, a hand-drawn tabloid magazine, photographs, a red carpet and, for the opening, a buffet to celebrate Adams’ 31st birthday, which is Aug. 22.

The bright, detailed masterwork at the center of the show, titled “Unrealized and Unforeseen Day,” is spellbinding. In Adams’ folk-art/comic-book/pop-culture style, the scene feels like the jacket of Sgt. Pepper’s layered over the cover of the Talking Heads’ Little Creatures (by fellow outsider artist Howard Finster).

Dressed in full regalia as his alter-ego, Art Thing, Adams stands at an amphitheater microphone with his back to the viewer, arms raised like a preacher’s. The sky is a TV test pattern in pink, red, yellow and orange.  The stage is a combination of the test pattern and static. But Adams’ vision is finely tuned.

Dozens of Adams’ friends and relatives are packed before him, faces full of admiration and anticipation. Peering over the walls are soon-to-be outcasts, tearful and glaring — among them Sheen, Lohan, Paris Hilton, Mel Gibson and Michael Jackson. In the distance are silhouettes of quasi-celebrities and newsmakers in need of intervention and rehabilitation: stars of Teen Mom and Toddlers & Tiaras, plus Casey Anthony, Jerry Sandusky and Conrad Murray, the King of Pop’s physician. On the side of the canvas are the angels of late artists Brian Joiner and Raymond Thunder-Sky, two men to model.

In a year of planning, Adams thought about Unrealized and Unforeseen from literally all angles. Four other paintings make up the “U&U Day” series, showing close-ups and views hidden in the main work. It’s as if Adams is directing a TV show with multiple cameras. One work is a self-portrait of Art Thing standing proud at the mic. “The Master of loyalty is in the gallery tonight,” reads Adams’ text.

Adams has set simple rules in exchange for his loyalty. After he “adopts” friends for special treatment, he promises “to keep personal life’s in private,” and he expects them to do the same. Other rules: “Respect 1 another.” “Be yourself who you really are as a character.” “Be nice.” Adams is no-nonsense about calling out celebs for DUIs and assaults, yet in his kingdom of justice, he just wants them to get everyday jobs as doctors, firefighters or restaurant workers and never be seen on TV or in a magazine again.

The camera is instead reserved for Adams’ friends, family, co-workers and a homeless woman. He’s posed them with boas and pearls, blowing kisses or just looking, well, like self-assured celebrities. He’s assigned to each a character name: Black Barbie, Astronaut Space Lady, Princess Ashely, Dr. David. It’s a personal project with universal appeal; you’ll wish you were part of Adams’ circle, too.

That popularity is the opposite of what Adams experienced when he was 18 or 19. Adams will speak about that period on opening night.

“I write a suicide note. ‘Why people hate me, don’t sit by me at high school? … I don’t got no friends to talk to, no money, no job.  I decide to give up…I’m going to die.’ ” Yet Adams was already making art, growing aware of its power. V&V and Thunder-Sky co-founders and social workers Bill Ross and Keith Banner curated Adams’ first group show, at Base Gallery in 2000.

In his U&U magazine, Adams confidently predicts the American Idol judges will score his one-man show at “150%.” And why not? But when you go to gawk at the new celebrities, do remember one of Adams’ rules: “Don’t do nothin stupid.”

UNREALIZED AND UNFORESEEN: NEW WORKS BY ANTONIO ADAMS opens 6-10 p.m. Friday and runs through Oct. 13 at Thunder-Sky Inc., 4573 Hamilton Ave., Northside. 513-823-8914; Showing in the Under-Sky basement, Monsters of the World: Drawings by Andrew Cole, boyhood drawings on binder paper by a Princeton University professor.
Scroll to read more Visual Arts articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.