I have been fortunate to have had a number of highlights in my career as an artist. In the fall of 2016, a monograph on 30 years of my work was published with an essay by Amei Wallach which coincided with a retrospective exhibition at both Nohra Haime Gallery and Adelson Gallery in Manhattan. Nohra Haime Gallery has mounted one-person exhibitions of my paintings on a regular basis since 1990 including: "Greetings From Toxic Paradise," 1993, "Not Quite Utopia," 1995, "Somewhere Between Here and Disaster," 2000, "Sublimus Interruptus," 2003, two exhibits "Tick Tock, Drip Drop" and "Drill Here, Drill Now," in 2008, and "Air and Water; or Everything's Fine Until It's Not," in 2010. The Butler Art Institute in Howland, Ohio mounted a mid-career retrospective titled "In the Shadow of Paradise" in 2005. Vero Beach Museum of Art exhibited "Landscape Paintings of Adam Straus" in 2012-13. In 2017, a one person show titled "Sobre la Belleza de la Naturaleza (On the Beauty of Nature) was hung at NH Galeria in Cartegena, Columbia.
Earlier in my career in 1988-89, I was awarded both a Florida Individual Artist Fellowship and a Southern Arts Federation/NEA for the sculpture I was making at the time. In the early 1980s, my sculpture was shown in a one-person show at CASH Gallery in the East Village in New York City. At that time I was also included in group shows at Civilian Warfare Gallery and CASH Gallery. During the late 80s, I exhibited both painting and sculpture at Ann Jaffe Gallery in Miami and at University of Central Florida in Orlando as well as numerous other venues in Orlando, Tampa, Tallahassee, and Miami, Florida.
My passion for art first developed in photography at the University of Florida while studying zoology in the late 1970s. I received a BS degree in mathematics from there in 1978 but began taking photography courses with Jerry Uelsmann and Evon Streetman who both supported my decision to pursue an MFA degree. In 1980, I entered the Graduate Art Program at Florida State University with Robert Fichter as my major professor. Robert was quite adept at getting students quickly out of their comfort zones and I began making all manner of collage, paintings, and objects before finding my own voice in sculptural assemblages.
In 1986, a few years after graduating with my MFA, I began making small landscape paintings of nocturnes depicting rural America framed in the sheet lead I had been using in sculpture. They were dark somewhat apocalyptic images with McDonald's arches, Gulf gas station signs, cities, and fires coming up from just beyond the horizon. There was often a humorist or satirical twist that could be found somewhere in the picture. They were a marriage between my love of the image and object. Since then, in one way or another I have been using the traditions of landscape painting to comment on contemporary man's presence in nature as well as on our social landscape. The small isolated figure on top of a mountain in an overwhelming vista would be seen shooting a rifle into the air. A group of tiny figures would be seen conquering a snow covered mountain peak and raising a flag as in the famous Iwo Jima photograph, themselves being photographed as well. The toxicity of water, streams, oceans, and water lily covered lakes would be represented by letting the paint drip out of the image and over the lead frames which were often used as a symbol for this pollution. The influences have been as far and wide as from Casper David Friedrich to Claude Monet, from Frederic Church and the Hudson River School to Mark Rothko, from the American Luminists to Gerhard Richter and Vila Celmins. The content of the work has almost always been inspired by current events and issues.
In 1990, Nohra Haime showed my small lead covered paintings in a sell out show in her Gallery on 57th Street in New York. Later that year I moved to New York City living first in Tribecca. At that point the scale of the paintings became larger. I have enjoyed working in scales that range from a few inches by inches to 6 by 7 feet and on materials ranging from canvas to jute, lead, steel, brass leaf, newspaper, paper, and wood. I have always worked primarily with oil paint.
After 13 years in New York City and one month before our son was born, my wife and I moved to Riverhead, NY on the east end of Long Island.
Increasingly, in the first several years after that move, the figures and narrative in the paintings began to disappear and be replaced by a desire to simply represent the sublime beauty of the natural world. It was the first time since my childhood I was so close to bays, rivers, and the ocean. For a number of years, I focused on on the light, atmosphere, quiet and beauty that surrounded me. Many of the paintings being inspired by actual places here on the North Fork of Long Island and my time on the water. I feel a nostalgia for the depiction of the romantic natural sublime and hope that it is conveyed by the work.
In the last several years these depictions of natural beauty and light have been disrupted by certain digitally inspired glitches to suggest a more real disruption of the natural world. Inspired by the layout and symbols of the iPhone, in particular, the save, delete, and share symbols, paintings of sky, water, sea, and land were framed with these icons. I was interested in using this now possibly universal language to bring attention to the landscape.
I have tried to embody everything I have painted with a passion for the natural world and it is my belief that how we treat the environment and whether or not we learn to live within nature in a more balanced way is the most crucial issue of our time.
And then, a further disruption occurred, the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Being a life long progressive democrat, the world seemed to shift overnight. I have always read the newspaper, mostly the New York Times and along with everyone else who is politically inclined in this manner the news went from bad to worse. I began to cover whatever surface I was working on with the Times which would be both glued or transferred onto to the canvas, wood, or paper. After creating this background of information, I would paint images of cliche or classic romantic landscapes--mountains, stormy oceans, our national parks--over the news, allowing some of the text and images from it to come through. An image of a missile from an article on North Korea can be seen coming through a painting of Yosemite Valley. Articles from the news around the time of the election can be seen coming through a turbulent sea. This build up of underlying information has come to include disparate images contrasting the tragedy and triumph of the news with the day to day mundane ranging from pictures of the destruction in Syria to my son's drawings and our household shopping lists. After painting a landscape over this information the image is further disrupted by digitally inspired glitches, stenciled on dots, washes, and other headlines scratched and scrawled onto the surface, a large part of which becomes undecipherable. They are my interpretations of a disrupted world, politically, environmentally, and socially, but at the same time my desire to paint away the bad news. They are my desire to point the viewer in the direction of nature and away, if only for a moment, from this barrage of information and the mess we have created. I am excited about the direction of this new work but, then again, I always have been most excited by what I plan on painting tomorrow.
Riverhead, September, 2018