Artist Profile: Adriana Atema


Q: Why Bruce Lee?

A: Bruce lee was a great man who was passionate about self improvement and human possibility.  A street fighting rebel in his youth, he became a peaceful wise man who tamed himself with discipline and stayed wild, he was open to all avenues of learning and practice and bridged worlds, breaking rules, improving and exploring traditions from the east and west.  He wished to be like water because his  nature was fire consuming the air and human knowledge around him.  He could not put enough water on the fire, the wood burned so fast.  He was a bright light.  The concept of him inspires me. 

Q: If there was a message attached to the show, what would it be?

A: The message, I think, is saying everything is not going to be ok.  But ok does exist.  And this is the magic mystery source of life!    

Q:  The show is full of color -- how do you choose/ pair colors?

A: I'm not representing any colors I see together in the natural world, maybe except in my natural imagination.  I use color for its medicinal qualities.  like cooking a certain thing to make a certain flavor.

It's just about taste.  Everyone is so particular about what colors they are, I pick up on that with people and paintings right away.  I am very judgmental about the colors people wear, not in the sense that i cant be friends with them, but always observing who belongs to same and different color tribes than me.  People who are muted colors, people who wear only one color all the time, people who wear neon, people who are old timey rusty, people who are pretend future silver computer, people who are pretending not to choose, and people who do not choose (because they are color blind).

Q: What is your opinion of iconic symbols in contemporary art?

A: Bruce lee is and isn't bruce lee.  

Like any person, after their life, or even when he or she is not around, and further arguably to a certain extent when they are present, a person becomes an idea.  Most relationships exist as the idea of that relationship, where concepts of another sit in the individual outside of physical presence. I never before liked iconographic imagery because I found most of it to be boring and unimaginative.  I felt I wanted art to give me something new.  However, the more I read icon imagery as, for instance, a self portrait, or a portrait of the times, the more I am drawn to the image.  The various ethicities of Jesus is always a good example of people reflecting themselves upon their concepts of gods.  Another aspect of the icon i have learned to love is the repetition aspect, to look at the same thing in a different ways.  As for with the Bruce show, Bruce the man is dead.  He has become like an adjective to descibe the qualities individuals give him; strong, dangerous, caring ,disciplined.  There should be a new thing called a nounjective.  I guess that is what a metaphor is.  So Bruce is a metaphor for these certain, mostly awesome, qualities.   

This metaphor reflects my conception of, in small part, who Bruce Lee the man was; and in large part, who is Bruce inside of me?  I ask myself how the qualities I ascribe to Bruce move through me and the imagery and words I find from my own life and mind, and less reflecting Bruce as if I was an impossible invisible witness of him, which I dont really believe in.  Yes it is a typical post modern way of looking at the world, but here we are!  Including ourselves in, and at the same time forever exclusive of,  a true evaluation of the world around us.  Even our dearest friends become concepts to us on some level.  This show includes the inside reflector in an obvious way.  

The paintings say, "Bruce Lee, contact us". This invokes the admired qualities of Bruce upon us! 


Q: You created using both your left and right hand --why/how did you decide on this creative process?

A: Practicing dexterity and balance is in my blood.  Growing up I observed with pride my mother picking up around the house with her polished toes.  Now I do the same.  I used to practice piano with my feet.  Maybe the next Bruce series will be drawn with my feet... Anyway,  I was always training in these invented exercises, like I would walk up and down the sharp gravel and crushed shells driveway in the burning hot summer to toughen my feet as a part of my secret personal ninja training while my sister read chapter books on the porch.  I loved gymnastics but i was too tall, and would come home from school and practice stretching and meditation and breathing exercises for hours alone in my room.  For the entire side A of my She's So Unusual cassette, I would stretch splits on one leg, then flip the tape and do the other side as part of my personal endurance training and breath control practice. I definitely didnt have a language for it back then. As a child i thought of it as warrior princess training. 

Nowadays, and for the last eight years, I've been teaching my own kind of movement-stretching-breathing-balancing practice class for the community so people can be liberated from body/mind ailments to get on with all the rest of life.  I need to be able to paint for hours and hours without breaking my body. For me now, I need my practice to serve my painting, like Bruce's practice served his fighting. 

These two handed Bruce Lee's enable the action of painting to serve my practice. Drawing with the left hand and right hand at the same time does a thing to the mind that I compare to my daily morning piano practice.  it occupies the two dueling sides of my brain, which is a negotiation that my wild monkey mind has made a life pursuit.  Not that I am looking for stillness, but I just so happen to know that it is found amidst a lot of motion. 

In high school drawing class, it is often taught that to loosen up and get out of old habits one practices drawing with the left hand /or non writing hand. It was then that I picked up two charcoals, one for each hand.  This was always an exercise I enjoyed in school.  Later, in college my friend Amy Guinta started drawing in her journal with two hands and I would watch her happy trance as she moved both hands over the paper.  My last inspiration recently came from a writing exercise where the right hand asks a question, and the left hand answers. Better than ouija board, it was so powerful!

And so with the Bruce paintings are drawn with my left and right hand at the same time.  In the act of painting them, I am training, balancing, engaging and thinking of everything at once.  And out of it, comes a positive divided attachment, freedom in the hands, an honest reflection, less inhibited by the exacting control of the judgement mind.  The end result is a realistic likeness in the sense that it is inclusive of all (or at least both) of the minds, that grapple to visually convey an image within one person.  

Q: How did you choose the surfaces to paint on and fabric you printed?

A: The fabric for the silkscreen prints is collected from years of travel, including old linens and table clothes I inherited from family in Holland recently.  The wood pieces I find in abandoned places or are gifted to me by woodworking carpenter friends, like Dan Donavon and the buddies over at scene2 productions.

I like to claim surfaces that already have a life, although i am equally challenged by the blank page, especially in a the book format, which is very intimate.

Q: Anything else to add?

A: Did you know that Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco? Basically he moved to China when he was three months old.  As a teenager, he studied martial arts but was ostracized by his lineage obsessed mates and master for having a german grandfather.  These tough circumstances forced him to broaden his horizons, and he found boxing.  He was a champion.  Eventually, though, he was getting into too many fights in the streets with the gangs in post-occupation Hong Kong and his parents sent him to claim his citizenship and study in the U.S. He studied acting, invented and taught his cross training variety of martial arts, married, had two kids and made sick kung fu movies. He died of suspicious causes, and his beautiful son Brandon did too. Sucks! because he is one celebrity I would want to see get old past one hundred years old.

 Check out Adriana Atema's show, Bruce Lee: Contact Us -- showing now through July 15, at Revolver.


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