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A prominent 20th-century British painter of religious subjects, landscapes, and butterflies,, Norman Adams did both small and large-scale work in abstract and realist styles. He was an elected member of the Royal Academy of London, and many of his religious paintings are in church collections in England. St. Anselm's Church at Kennington has a set of paintings based on The Pilgrim's Progress; and Stations of the Cross, a set of 15 paintings, is in The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Milton Keynes, and another set is at St. Mary's Church in Manchester.
Norman Adams was born in 1927, and called to action during World War
II, was a conscientious objector. Authorities, unhappy but tolerant of this stance, confined him to Wormwood
Scrubs Prison, and then sent him to a farm where he did agricultural labor.
paintings and drawings reflect experiences from this time period and from
his reactions to wartime news such as The Gates of Paradise, 1947,
about Nazi concentration camps; and Kingdom of Apathy, 1946, a cartoon
about a king who, surrounded by capitalists and degenerates, refuses to
sit on his throne.
In the 1960s, Adams' work became increasingly abstract
although they had titles that conveyed easily understood themes: Ecce
Homo; Angels, and The Trumpeter.
Adams and his wife, Anna, had homes and studios in both London and Horton-in-Ribblesdale,
Yorkshire. From the mid 1950s, he went back and forth as he taught art in London during the winters but was ever glad to return to Yorkshire where he did much watercolor painting from sketches he made while out wandering up and down the moors. He referred to his life in Yorkshire as being like a "happy childhood." In abstract style, he did numerous landscapes and skyscapes reflecting these 'wanderings': Thunder Clouds, Ribblesdale, 1956; Moorland Study, 1958; and Trees at Douk Ghyll, 1956. He also did landscape watercolors in Scotland: Lock Seaforth, 1962; Beach and Sea at Losgaintir, 1965 and Study at Loch Brittle-Skye, 1965.
Adams did numerous paintings, in semi-realist style, of butterflies, having been inspired by watching them while standing in his garden. He said that it was a "road to Damascus moment." The idea struck him that these were nature's expressions of beauty "that had no meaning. . . .here was nature making beauty, but with no message." Adams decided that through his artwork, he too would focus on beauty, but unlike nature's creation of butterflies, would try to convey a message.
Throughout his career, the artist appears to be a very spiritual person. He spent much of his life pondering the mysteries of god and life and death,
and had much respect for the European tradition dating from the Middle
Ages of expressing his ideas on those subjects through paintings. However, unlike many of the religious painters who inspired him, Adams was neither orthodox in
his worship nor traditional in his artwork. He attended services for inspiration and not instruction,
and he never committed to a specific creed. Of himself, he said he was
a "compulsive believer", and by his actions, indicated he was open to a
wide range of religious experiences. In the 1960s, he focused increasingly on these religious and spiritual subjects, doing large-scale theological theme painting in oil rather than watercolor, and in very abstract, minimalist styles. Some of his works were shocking to viewers such as The Garderner, 1961, which was a phallic image of God, and Mystery Babylon the Great, 1962, about harlots and fornication.
In 1980 Adams and his wife traveled to Provence in France because he was suffering from ill health including angina and wanted a place that was not deserted because of the possibility of him needing medical assistance. They loved the sunshine of southern France, which was a big contrast to the cold and dampness of England, and that first trip set them on a course of spending their summers in Provence all through the 1980s. "The effect of the light, the scenery and the association with impressionist painters had an amazing effect on Norman's watercolors." Titles from that period include Cherry Orchard-Provence Spring, 1983; and Apricot Trees Covered with Ivy, 1983. He also continued to do oil painting of religious subjects such as Golden Fruit about the Garden of Eden, 1987.
From the 1990s, Adams was restricted by his health from working on the large oil paintings with religious themes, which had been of special interest to churches. However he did do several large-scale watercolors such as Dark Madonna, 2000, and The Refugees about the first Gulf War with angels co-mingling with satellites and B 52 airplanes.
Norman Adams died on March 9th, 2005 of Parkinson's Disease.
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