Adam Derums
The Heartbeat of a Moth
04.03.20 – 21.03.20

I can’t help but see Adam Derums’ paintings as a part of this tradition. Not only the connection between art and spiritualism but more interestingly, ectoplasm, with its connotations of materializing experiences that James termed ‘insensible objects’. For me, these paintings on show at Five Walls are a kind of ‘ectoplasmic event’. This may sound trite, but the images do suggest some mystical substance radiating energy that has materialized on the surface of the painting. The light of the flora-like fronds radiates the sense of an electric field – energy that seems to have spontaneously come into being and is about to dissipate. Like an aura but disassociated from a body. A kind of intelligence from somewhere else wanting to break into our world. The floral reference also gives the images a naturalism that compounds their alien qualities, not unlike the stunning illustrations of the underwater world of Ernst Haeckel in the late nineteenth century that had such an influence on Art Nouveau, despite his crazy eugenic beliefs. It is exactly this weird world of the half-known (spiritualist space, underwater depths, darkness) that give Adam’s paintings a frisson of mysticism. Or at least a possible supernatural quality.

In a similar sense, the way these paintings are generated, through a slow and meditative technique of directing paint-drips across the surface, compounds the coming-into-being quality of the image. Adam works mainly in the early hours of the morning before going to work as a teacher. Over many months he gently drips the paint onto the canvas and then carefully guides it, using compressed air, as it runs across the face of the painting. These ‘flowers of paint’ have an organic nature generated by their slow and meticulous production – as if they have been grown. They are embedded with delicacy and a certain fragility – born through the protracted care carried out during their production.

Adam uses evocative titles (The Limbo of Lunary Souls) that also suggest an otherworldliness, out of the grip of our usual perception, that help us access some of the ‘higher’ and mystical-like qualities the images gently bring forth. Nights full of sighs, mornings of tears, love as comforter – are abstractions that invest the images with Sufi-like poiesis reminiscent of Rumi, a type of beauty that can’t be spoken but has to be felt. As with Giotto’s deep-dark blue lurking behind the ceiling of the Padua Chapel which Julian Kristeva nominates as the colour of jouissance, Adam’s midnight-blue backgrounds open up a space of an infinite void, unfathomable and unnamable. Similarly, the noetic quality of these images attests to a soft-power able to reveal states of quietude and contemplation, despite their effervescence and energy. Adam’s images oscillate between this quietness and sparky energy, evoking a beauty that shifts and wavers in-and-out of our seeing.

Professor Julian Goddard
RMIT University
February 2020

(click to enlarge)