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12 QUESTIONS: Adam Fulwiler

Biography Adam Fulwiler is a painter currently based in Fayetteville, AR. His paintings investigate communication, improvisation, and paintings capacity for transformation. He received his BA in painting from the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay ('17) and his MFA in painting from the University of Arkansas ('22). He is a recipient of the 2022 Windgate Foundation Accelerator Grant. He has shown in exhibitions in Arkansas, Wisconsin, Iowa, Tennessee, Ohio, and New York. In addition to showing and making work, Fulwiler works as a Studio Educator for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR.

Statement Growing up, I was always confused why my family and I couldn’t do certain things that many other families could like going to an amusement park or concert, not immediately realizing the debilitating effect those high-sensory environments had on my autistic brother. I quickly learned how to recognize those sensory triggers as I grew older. Where my family could go was always dictated by the sounds, crowds, and lights that would be present there. The distance that has been placed between us by moving to Fayetteville, Arkansas for graduate school made me conscious of how constantly aware I am of my sensorial environment. Even though my brother is not here with me, I continue to make plans determined by those same sorts of stimuli.

Reflecting on my childhood spent with my brother, who has autism, I establish a painted space that is both forcibly disjointed and meaningfully connected, invoking the uncertainty and complexity of perception and communication. Through chromatic nuance, physicality, representational ambiguity, and visual tempo, I invite the viewer into the act of slow looking—to encounter each work as a living, breathing, individual entity. My paintings investigate communication, improvisation, play, and painting’s capacity for transformation.

When I moved down to Fayetteville in the summer of 2019 to begin my studies, my brother rode along in the moving truck with me. To entertain himself, and as a result, entertain me as well, he created a chart to track multiple objects or types of vehicles found on the highway. Of course, there were the usual license plate states, but he also had items on his lists like trash bags, dead armadillos, furniture, and blown tire debris. He religiously kept records of everything for the entire drive. This tendency is relayed in my invention of tools, games, and puzzles in the studio. Finding ways to reawaken interest in something usually labeled as mundane or create new methods to forcibly slow down the process of making.

Other methods I employ to slow the process or create new opportunities for discovery are the invention of rules and aleatoric devices, mimicking an engagement with board games or puzzles, and pursuing a jazz-like improvisation within these restrictions. The result is an open, scrambled experience of space, like a jigsaw puzzle built from pieces sourced from multiple boxes. Spatial relationships and potential meanings seem to shift with every glance, suggestive of my own experiences reading imaginative and poetic writers like Haruki Murakami and Italo Calvino.

Provisional grids support tessellating blocks of color to create relationships of alternating friction and calm. I sew scraps of work together in a lyrical rhythm reminiscent of quilting, invoking logic of multiplicity and interconnectivity. Josef Albers observed that color behaves like a human “in two distinct ways: the first in self-realization and then in the realization of relationships with others.” I make paintings to better understand the relationship I have with my autistic brother and the way that experience of growing up has provided me with hyper-awareness of my sensorial environment.

1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?

I read a lot and find that the structure of fiction, particularly writers of the OuLiPo group, feeds into my painting practice. The group is defined by creating works using constrained writing techniques. Creating within predetermined restrictions is something I do often in the studio, and I find that it is freeing and results in unexpected discoveries. My all-time favorite book is If on a Winters Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (a member of OuLiPo). Several other books that have been influential reads are The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders, and My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh.

2. What are you currently working on?

I am preparing to move to Minnesota (in three days as of writing this) to begin a new position as an Assistant Professor of Painting at the University of Minnesota - Morris. So, since I have been in layover in Wisconsin (between Arkansas and the move to Minnesota) I have not had a proper studio. However, I have been preparing some supports to hit the ground running once I set up my studio in Minnesota. I am very eager to start some new paintings.

3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

I encourage failure in the studio. I tend to employ a lot of processes that are inherently chance based such as quick monotypes, using non-traditional tools to apply paint, employing games to determine moves, or creating pre-set rules that must be followed. Usually, these chance-based processes are employed early in the process thus leading me into new territory. As the work develops I tend to shift gears into a considerably slower decision process. I will also employ these processes if I feel a painting has gone stale or is stuck.

I am never too worried about a painting moving into the territory of complete failure because a lot of my paintings use cut pieces and parts of previous works that are then sewn or adhered to the surface of a new painting. A good example of this is Possibility of Swimming Below which has tons of adhered cut-up works on paper and canvas. Often these parts are manipulated or painted over once they reach the new surface, but the history of where they have been remains. I guess with all that said, I can’t really pick a favorite failure because I value them all equally. They become jumping-off points for new ideas or influence work that is being made in tandem.

4. What is your most unusual habit?

I really am not someone that forms habits. I really only have one habit, and that is a cup of black tea every morning.

5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?

This is such a hard question, so I am going to choose one painter that has passed and one that is still living. The first painter that came to mind is Alice Neel. She has always been one of my favorite figurative painters and (I believe) holds the crown for best painter of hands. The painter alive I would choose is Anthony Cudahy. I love his ethereal, gauzy style depicting everyday scenes in juicy palettes of surprising color.

6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? What is your studio like? Could you share an image?

The most indispensable item in my studio would be the plastic sheeting I use to cover a section of the studio floor. I not only use this as a protective membrane but as a tool to create marks on the surface of my work. I often gesso and paint canvas scraps on top of this plastic which accumulates a history of marks and shapes. I then coat entire paintings in clear gel medium and stick them to the plastic. Once dry I peel up the work which brings with it the accumulated marks on the plastic sheeting. You can see this in the work Kicked to the Curb, but it also shows up (albeit more veiled) in the larger paintings in the show such as On the Carpet of Leaves Illuminated by the Moon.

I like my studio to be organized and arranged so there is a large amount of floor space in the center to work on the ground. I create best when everything is in its place, but also when I am in a space where making a mess is possible. The image I attached is the corner of my most recent studio in Arkansas. You can see the plastic that I described on the ground with several works on paper in progress.

7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?

When I am in a funk, I tend to tidy the studio, prepare supports, gesso, or read. I have a large collection of artist monographs in my studio and tend to leaf through those when I feel stuck. Something I see generally initiates a new idea or compositional structure to implement into a painting. Of course, seeing other artists work in person can really energize me to get in the studio and work so I try to get to museums or galleries as much as I can.

8. Who/What influences your work?

I have a lot of influences that include artists such as Amy Sillman, Stanley Whitney, Anna Kunz, Tomory Dodge, Henri Matisse, Meghan Brady, and Pierre Bonnard to name a few. I have also been looking at work by a lot of quilters lately such as Nancy Crow and the quilters of Gee’s Bend. Other than visual artists, writers such as Italo Calvino, Haruki Murakami, John Ashberry, Charles Simic, and Milan Kundera have been influential. Music is also a huge influence on my work as well as the constantly evolving relationship I have with my brother who has autism.

9. Do you collect anything?

I collect records, books, and of course art from friends!

10. What words of advice would you give to your younger self?

Relax, slow down, and enjoy the moment.

11. In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?

I’ve learned everything about your life influences the decisions and motivations in the studio. It just takes time to recognize them. Everything is valid.

12. Share an inspiring image.

This is an image of a recent drawing by my brother, Austin.

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