As far as I’m concerned, Adam Neate is one of the best painters of a generation. From what I’ve been hearing on and off the record, his recent solo show at Elms Lesters in London has been getting very mixed reviews. Many people are saying he is even more brilliant than before, others feel vindicated for criticizing his pricing now that the hype seems to have died down, some fans are just confused and disappointed.
I have the give the show a pretty average review myself. This was the show I was looking forward to most this year, as much as Banksy versus The Bristol Museum. And yet, in the end, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting or hoping for.
Like I said, Adam is an amazing painter, and I’d like to see anybody try and convince me that’s not true. But Adam likes to keep changing his work and challenging himself with his painting. Sounds like a good thing, but it means that this show lacks many of the element that I enjoyed so much in Adam’s older work. The ground floor of A New Understanding has paintings that, though recognizably Adam’s, progress in painterly skill but have lost the raw power of previous work.
Now, those paintings are beautiful, they tell a story, they are well painted, but to me they are boring. Yes, in the painting on the right, Adam has stuck a real umbrella into the painting, and in both of those paintings there are very cool shadows, but that’s technically interesting and nothing else. I know people who would love to have these paintings in their homes: my contemporary art collector friends. They might be interested in these. And that’s what I thought about this entire floor. Good paintings for people who enjoy fine art and contemporary art. But not one of these paintings truly reached me and touched my soul like I expected. None of them gave me that feeling that a truly great painting is supposed to give you, and that much of Adam’s older work did give me.
But upstairs feels like a completely different show.
About half the work upstairs is something along these lines. Adam Neate is trying to create “4D” pieces that show the passage of time. Working with perspex, he has a unique way of creating lines of motion and showing blurs. It doesn’t work every time, but it does work sometimes and the development really brings his work forward.
These two portraits are immediately identifiable as Adam Neate’s work, and are probably the sort of thing that people work expecting, but they also both use perspex in an innovative way to show motion. These are probably my favorite pieces in the show.
And these are the lower price point paintings. These are interesting, because they are again pretty identifiable as Neate’s work, but they incorporate some of the motion elements of other pieces in A New Understanding and they use much bolder colors than most people would expect from Adam. The colors and repeated image in the paintings immediately reminded me of Warhol, not something I would have expected at this show at all, but cool nonetheless.
While A New Understanding isn’t what I had hoped for, I think the amazing thing about Neate is how quickly his work changes. It seems like every show, almost every piece, that he does is important because Adam might never do something like it again. Even within this show, there are at least 2 distinct periods of work. Also, Adam is such a talented painter that I know this is the kind of thing where even if this show doesn’t have much work to my taste, the next one might.
Just one more quick thought. It seems to me like Adam has officially crossed that invisible and ill-defined line between street/urban artist and “contemporary painter” or whatever. His old work always had a feel to it like the street was still on his mind, and the work appealed to street art collectors, but with this new show, there is no doubt that he can cross over into the more mainstream art world and gain a much more diverse collector base. This was not a street art show, it was an art show. And I don’t know if that’s a compliment, criticism or neither.
Photos by s.butterfly