Henry Adeson

Photographed by Nico Lopez-Alegria

Interviewed by Louise Sandback

Introduce yourself.

My name is Henry Adeson. I’m in CC, class of 2021. I’m majoring in Art History and potentially minoring in Literature. I’m a visual artist working largely in two-dimensional media like pencil, pastels and oil paint, but I’m always eager to find a new material or technology to draw with. I’m from London originally but was born to American expats. So I’m sort of “American-passing” as it were.

How does your upbringing in London influence your practice?

This is something that I’ve been trying to diagnose for a while because I’ve never really thought about my art in terms of a biographical narrative. I think there is a big difference in aesthetic principles in England versus America. There is also generally just different art available, and it is shown in different ways: the prototype of white-walled gallery seems to have greater legacy there, while in New York my experience has been that art is integrated in a more interactive way into the city and its inhabitants’ lives.

These distinctions inform artistic production for me. My exposure to art has been through spending a lot of time in museums and galleries. This is a total generalization but because of this in England I found there to be a greater stress on art as an artistic product rather than as something with function, agency, or an ability to effect change. So I was always much more aware of art in a museum context, with those very specific aesthetic qualities, rather than more dynamic art with punch or chutzpah.

Do you have a favorite museum back home?

Victoria and Albert is really good, Leighton House is this beautiful little wunderkammer [collection of curiosities] of a museum, National Gallery and NPG (National Portrait Gallery).

"South Haven" - Henry Adeson

When would you say you started developing your own style?

My individual style is definitely a recent development. A lot of my drawings used to document artworks and artistic events that I liked, and create an inventory that I could look at and use — but never anything actively creative or ideoplastic. It was always in reference to something or a eulogy to an artist. I think it’s maybe America that has changed me. I’ve now had time to digest this derivative catalog of imagery and come up with an artistic individuality of my own, to synthesize all these things and give new meaning to them rather than just copying.  

Would you say that paying homage and drawing inspiration from other artists in that way still incorporates itself into your practice?

Yeah, I think so, in a kind of perverted way though. A lot of my recent art has been in response to my preceding practice of paying homage to artists. I’m now letting myself ridicule that in a way. I’m very attracted to the performance of genres, types, and affected artistic moments, which are all about the artists themselves. My art will always be artist-centered, but instead of being reverent to them, I want to parse through what it means for an artist to make art.

For me, that looks like addressing what art is as a constructed discipline — how it has genre, specific functions, visual cultures; and all these other contrived aspects which are beyond just expression, beyond just trying to convey a message or an idea. In this way, art-making is a very art historical exercise for me. It is as much about the ways in which the artwork exists as the content of it.

In your artist statement, you describe your approach to art-making as “cerebral more than affective.” Can you elaborate on this?

I had this epiphanic moment the other day in class. We’re now looking at Victorian Aestheticist painting (an effete, schoolish late-19th century movement), which is essentially the principal period that I ingested when I was young. I realized how formative that was for me: growing up, the epistemic value of art was very much defined by that era. This movement’s credo is essentially ‘art for art’s sake,’ or ‘art as an end’ — art existing for itself and being a contained event, which doesn’t serve to expedite something else. For me, art has ended up having a much more aesthetic purpose than some of what you currently see today, which is not to say either is definitive at all. A lot of the imagery I was drawn to from my youth is aestheticized. It is luxuriant: nudes draped in silks and reclining on meticulously painted marble architectural units. It’s so vapid but gorgeous and sumptuous and delicious. I think I’ve managed to cling onto that functionality and that definition of art-making; it seeks to be the best at being art rather than being the best at being expression.

How do you explore language in your work?

I guess a good way for me to describe this is with this document on my computer. It’s called “Henry’s Jargon File” or something. Basically, in all the classes I’ve taken here, I add the terminologies we use that I like to a collated list. I really like the culture of ascribing these intellectualized “ism” words to certain tropes or events. So I’ve got this list of things, of these terminologies that I like.

Last year for my poetry class — this is kind of where it started — I would review this document and see ways I could transcribe and transpose these poetic constructs and terminologies into either visual form or my own poetry. That kind of process of conversion is where the playful, linguistic element of my work started. And then subsequently, as I’ve gone into Art History more that has continued. I also think terminology is fun because it’s such a constructed thing. Motifs and tropes are repeated across poets and artists, and they’re so affected and contrived. I’m very drawn to that. So to reinterpret it or deconstruct it in a way, whether visually or lexically, I think is interesting.

Henry photographed by Nico Lopez-Alegria

Can you describe your creative process?

It’s very chaotic, very volatile. I’m very impatient. At school it’s honestly quick sketches, small scale. This summer was nice; I set up kind of a provisional studio in my bedroom, and I had spatial distinction from everything else. I could really set up and establish process patterns, which I hadn’t had previously because I never really had my own studio space. So as far as process goes, it was recording information in my sketchbooks, synthesizing it in sketches and paintings, and then finally producing a finished sketch or painting. It was kind of tripartite: record information, play with it, then produce. As far as the atmosphere, I’ll put on a playlist that I compiled at some point and exhaust it — listen to it addictively, end up disliking every song on it.

You describe in your artist statement being in a ‘transitional phase’ in terms of how you deal with and think about images. Can you elaborate on this? How has this transition changed your practice?

My work’s recent shift has been very reactive to what I’ve done in the past. I aspired to this grandness in my artwork because I was looking to these very impressive, grand artists. For that reason, my art kind of made lofty claims, and it was very convinced of its own force and quality. I think I’m much more self-deprecating now. I like to criticize ever pretending to assert myself like that artistically. I’m more taken now by the ways in which art fails to live up to its truth claims. There’s a quotation that we mentioned in Art in Britain with Professor Gamer the other day: “Art may be said to be the individual quality of failure, or the individual coefficient of error … in [the artist’s] effort to attain to the expression of form.” Looking at the failures of artists’ attempts to mirror nature really interests me. It’s bound up with this question of performance — performing an artistic value and a certainty that creates pretension.

What have you been working on recently?

All the images I submitted [to Ratrock] were very much from one series In the Big Country: South Haven, its own concept. I’ve gone into a smaller scale for this new series. Drawing and watercolor are great because they’re private, they’re intimate; you can do them on your own terms. For painting you have to set up a performance in some way — there’s an easel, there’s posturing, there’s a lot of grandeur. Artistically, though, watercolor and drawing permitted small concentrated production which was important to me. I also think I am going more into watercolor now because it’s easier to be poetic, quicker with watercolor, to make poetic marks. I think oil painting is quite prosaic and literal, so it’s nice to have that fluidity and fluency with watercolor and pencil. My new series goes into sensitivity a bit more, and it’s a very intuitive thing for me that watercolor is more sensitive and vulnerable than oil paint. Oil paint just has such a history in the Western tradition of being substantial.

What do you mean when you say you are going more into ‘sensitivity’?

This summer I went to my grandparents’ home in rural Michigan, where I spent a lot of time in my childhood. It was an upsetting and destabilizing experience after a year at Columbia—perhaps this is a snobbish thing to say, I don’t know. It was strange for me to go back, and it prompted a lot of introspection and isolation, solipsism, misanthropy, self-doubt, and insecurity. I felt as though I had to make artistic products that reflected that.

These were predominantly self-portraits because it seems like the natural pictorial form for introspective painting. I think for me so much of this resistance to Americana — or to the kind of presiding Michigan culture — was a spatial and physical one. I felt like my body wasn’t the right size; it felt like there was a disunity between the space of Michigan and me. So I tried to convey that in my artworks; I wanted to look at different disparities and dichotomies that exist in art that I could relate to the disparity I felt between me and my environment: disparities of genre, compositional disparities, painterly disparities, etc.

"South Haven" - Henry Adeson

What were some other sources of inspiration for this series?

I was looking to other artists who have that sensitivity and sense of confessional directness. I was looking at Tracey Emin’s lithographs, Louise Bourgeois’ watercolors, which are very raw and vulnerable. I really like them. As far as other artistic inspirations for this I was looking at Regionalism, and Grant Wood, and how they navigate both the alluring and the unsettling visual aspects of Americana and American life. I was also reading Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg Ohio,” which is this book that has vignettes of life in small towns, and a lot of it is just about repression and these anxieties that very much resonated with me. It’s told in this fragmented style. The facture of the book kind of reminded me of watercolor in some ways: the brevity, the laconism, and the subsequent assimilation of form and function, verbum and res. There was a connection there.

A movie I watched while making this was “True Stories,” which is a David Byrne movie. It’s very good. The song “The Big Country” by the Talking Heads, too, and “Badlands” by Terrence Malick — all these things look into the ways that American culture is performed visually or musically. I wanted to see how American happiness, the American Dream, is presented visually, and then undercut it. So a lot of my interest is about the phrasing, how assumed happiness is phrased.

Were there any themes, visually or otherwise, that you saw running through your sources of inspiration?

Brilliant simplicity, which I really liked. You see that in Regionalism, where things are just uncannily reduced to the simplicity of blue skies, green lawns. That’s the thing, sometimes the simpler things are presented as the most beautiful in art. The American utopia is very reductive and is held up as this ideal. Ideals are often very simple. Ultimately, a response to that would be that complexity is the real meaning of beauty, which I think I stand by now.

Amber Lewis

Photography by India Halsted

Interview by Karen Yoon

Can you introduce yourself?

My name’s Amber Lewis. I am a senior in CC. Yeah, that’s me.

Can you describe your creative process?

As far as music goes, it was different when I was at NYU before I transferred, because I had private songwriting lessons. For that, it felt kind of weird if I wasn’t working on something consistently. But these days sometimes I’ll just write a song in the night; it just happens. Happened the other night. Sometimes I’ll go months and months without writing a song. And for poetry, that’s really changed this semester, because I’m in a writing workshop and we’ve had to keep a consistent writer’s journal and have at least a poem to show per week, and that’s been really helpful. I just write a lot about things I see and use that to write, which is also very therapeutic for me.

As both a poet and musician, how do the two mediums intertwine?

I mean lyrics are really just poetry. There are plenty of songs that are corny and not necessarily poetic, and that’s fine too. For me, I try to look at my lyrics the same way I look at poetry, sometimes I write a poem and it becomes a song.

How do you choose the instrumentals for that particular piece of writing?

Sometimes, I’ll write a poem, and it doesn’t need to be sung, but this feeling or landscape or space I’ve created could be instrumental. And when that happens, I write piano things. Over the past year, I’ve written a small piece for string quartet with a piano in it. And I feel like I’ve created a very specific feeling in space that could be music.

Where would you say that your passion for creating art began?

It’s how I’ve always been. I’ve always had to make things. Even before I was constantly making music, I was always singing, even before writing lyrics. And my dad went to Pratt, he’s an art guy, always been very artistic. My grandma is a painter, a fine artist, that’s how she makes her money. I grew up spending a lot of time in her studio, looking at her paintings. It was always understood that I would create.

You highlight your bilingual childhood in your music video for Puddles. How has being part of an intercultural household shaped your work?

A lot of my work has to do with identity, which is usually defined in terms of relationships with others and myself. And I think that being biracial and having two pretty distinct cultures in either of my parents- my mom is from France, grew up there. My dad is Jamaican, born in Brooklyn, raised in Yonkers. I’ve always been trying to find out where I fit in between those two. And I think a lot of my poems have to do with that; although more recently I’ve tried to branch out from only speaking about race.

AMBER 8.jpg

I noticed a lot of your work explores relationships, particularly with queer undertones. Can you expand on that?

The first song I thought was pretty good was Lampshades, and that was about a girl. And it’s pretty obvious because I use “she” pronouns. It’s a choice to use those pronouns in a love song because people assume so much about who you are. And it’s intimidating to know that the second you sing that, people already have this idea of who you are that might not necessarily be who you are.

How do you navigate the arts scene in New York City as a queer Black woman?

I write mostly folkish-indie music with some bedroom pop flares, and there aren’t a lot of mainstream Black women who do that. It’s a recapitulation of growing up in my neighborhood, where I was the only Black girl in my entire grade. I’ve found myself in another white-dominated space, and sometimes I feel out of place. With poetry, everyone is writing what I’m writing. I don’t feel so out of place, and I haven’t had any uncomfortable experiences with that.

How do you feel being part of the Columbia arts community, another white-dominated space?

It’s more of the same, you know. But I’ve felt more part of a music community at Columbia than I ever did at NYU, because it’s really hard to find a space where you can ever be heard since there are so many voices there. But here, I went to two events, and suddenly I know everyone who does music on this campus. I feel like I’m fairly active in this scene on campus, and it’s been a positive experience so far.

How has your process of creating changed after transferring from NYU?

I felt like I had more time to write music at NYU, because it was literally what I was studying. But I’ve had way more time to perform here and actually be heard. So, it’s nice that I’ve been having more time to share with people. And I’ve been writing more poetry which has been really cool. I applied to this Advanced Poetry Workshop on a whim, and I got in. And it’s been nice to gain some confidence in that.

How do you feel when you perform in front of an audience versus when you’re sharing work in your poetry workshop?

I am never as nervous singing a song in front of people, and I’ve sung in front of a decent amount of people. It doesn’t really phase me. But when I read a poem that I wrote to 2 people, I shake. It makes me really nervous. Because it’s a different state from when you’re singing and writing and playing a guitar. Even those two realms of performance have been very different for me.

(For Context: Amber released her first EP in 2017 on Bandcamp.) How would you describe “Back Home”?

It was a proud moment for me, the first time where I put together some amount of songs I actually liked. It’s about my first two years after leaving home, and the things that you think about. It’s nothing new, but it’s about what happened to me.

How did you decide to paint your own album covers?

I like painting, and I had this one that was kind of significant to me. It’s just of a house that I saw from across the lake when I was in a vacation house while in Michigan, and it just needed to be the cover of an album. And from that point on, why pay anyone else to do it when I can do it? I’ve always been a person who makes it all by herself, so it just seemed to be in the same vain.

What are you working on now, short-term and long-term?

For my poetry workshop, I am working on a poetry chapbook with 10-15 poems. I might paint a cover for it, don’t know what of or what it’s titled. I just wrote a song Monday night for a performance next week. I would also love to record with CU Records: a few new songs and a few old ones off of Back Home for a new collection of sorts, maybe an album. I also want to record this one quartet, because all I know about how it sounds is based on Logic. I would love to hear it live.  


Photographed by India Halsted

Interviewed by Morgan Becker

Introduce yourself.

My name is Ruba, and I’m a sophomore at Barnard College. I’m majoring in Art History and hopefully Visual Arts as well. I’m an artist. I collage, and paint, and embroider. I’m also a student athlete, among other things. I’m slightly all over the place.

Describe your evolution as an artist. Have you always been drawn to collage, or did you work your way toward it through other mediums?

When I was very young, my dream was to be a fashion designer. I started sewing when I was about ten. I would make pillow cases and bags and make my mom’s friends buy them, which was extortionate. And then I made it into clothes. From the ages of ten to fifteen, it was sketching and doing design. I think that although it seems different, [fashion design] is very related to what I do now. In high school, I did a lot of painting and drawing, but found that just one medium wasn’t right for me. Though sometimes I think, with rowing and other things, I’ve left that passion behind, it’s definitely led me to where I am; with what materials and crazy things I like to work with.

I was particularly interested in the embroidery you use in your collages — how did the transition happen from functional sewing to what you do now?

I was very particular about hems. Around age twelve, I had a uniform at school and I changed everything in it just a little bit. And then I got bored — there wasn’t enough expression in it, really. I started using more yarn, thicker thread, and I would embroider random stuff on the clothes I was making. Then that led its way into my art class, and onto paper, and into journals. I would take photos and I would stitch into those. The thread was, kind of, thethread, from the start of my creative endeavors to where I am now.

Ruba Nadar - 2018

Ruba Nadar - 2018

How does your own identity come across in your art?

So I’m Egyptian-Lebanese, but my parents mainly grew up in the US. I grew up in London. I don’t speak Arabic, but I’m learning currently and I feel this kind of strange identity of being English but not really. Being American, but also not really. Not speaking the language of where I am actually from has made me really passionate about it, and curious. So I practice Arabic calligraphy, and I’ve stitched Arabic letters into some works. I try and incorporate where I’m from because I feel it has something to say about who I am. Even if I fully can’t articulate it, I can articulate it better.

What, or who, has inspired you this week?

This week, one of my favorite artists — his name is Hassan Hajjaj, he’s English-born but I believe he’s Moroccan — is doing a documentary series on this all-women biker gang in Marrakech. He does a lot with mixed-media and taking different brands and logos and fabrics and creating some kind of social commentary with it. It has the most amazing color as well. I’ve been on his Instagram, just enjoying it.

Favorite artists?

My favorite artists are Robert Rauschenberg and Anselm Kiefer. Robert Rauschenberg makes what he calls ‘combines,’ like big collages with mixed media and random things. It’s the kind of art that I really look to for inspiration — not the kind of art that I’d put on my walls. It’s weird and interesting. And Anselm Kiefer does mixed media, as well. He’s just a genius. He’s amazing.

What kind of art do you put on your walls?

I actually have a slightly obsessive personality when it comes to interior decoration. I’ve maybe redesigned my dorm four times this year. It’s ridiculous. I started off the year like, yeah, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, this is what I want to be seeing, and it was just too much color. And I had maybe, twenty posters up? It was ridiculous. I took it all down. Now, I’ve got a Botticelli, and I have some Northern Renaissance, very smooth paintings, and I only have two posters up. That’s what I’m enjoying looking at, which has nothing to do with anything that I make.

Photograph by India Halsted

Photograph by India Halsted

Where and in what context do you work best?

Usually, on the floor of my room. And the context — it’s slightly strange — I have these ridiculous bursts of needing to get something out. And I’ll sit on my floor and it’ll literally look like a war zone, with paper everywhere and magazine cut-outs, and so many accidents. Paint everywhere. I’m really scared for the end of the year when I have to move out. It’s kind of like a frenzy (which makes it seem so dramatic, it really isn’t) that lasts like, two, three, days, of prolific — I don’t know about impressive — work. When I’m done, I don’t look at any of it. I put it all under my bed and then, when inspiration strikes, it all comes back out and the whole cycle starts again.

To what extent would you say the process is spontaneous? Do you know, generally, what a piece might end up looking like?

Definitely not. I’ll start by getting a massive book of A1 or A2 paper. Paint every single page of them, let them dry, leave them for, like, a month, bring them all back out, then just go from there. One day I’ll finish something: I’m like, ‘Wow. Amazing,’ then look at it the next day and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, what was I thinking?’ And so then I’ll add something else. I definitely have a tendency to overdo some of my work.

It seems like a lot of your work involves reconfiguration — of advertisements, novels, other artists’ photographs. At what point in the creative process would you say a piece becomes cohesively yours?

That’s definitely tough, because collaging with found materials involves a lot of other people’s work, which I’m very conscious of. But when it’s done, and I look at it, it’s saying something about me. Some message. With a lot of the things that I do, it’s about what’s not there. I’ll put something down and then paint over it, or rip it off and you’ll just see what’s been left. It’s more about the thought behind it. I cut out other people’s images, but it’s all about the composition. Once it’s something that I identify with myself, once these colors are in line, once this stitch looks good with this, then I can say that this work is my own. Yeah, that’s someone else’s face, but it’s all working together for something bigger.

Tell me about the piece that you’re most proud of.

I framed a work for my dad to put in his office. When I was in Cairo, I brought back all these newspapers — it’s a collage, and essentially the obituaries page is the background. I collected all of these old photos from old Egypt and romanticized Alexandria and put them on there, kind of painted over it, and put a picture of my dad. It’s an interesting look at who he is, in relation to where he’s from, but also where he’s not from. And I think it says a lot more than I’m used to my work saying. I’m quite proud of that.

Tell me about the role color plays in your collages. If you could only create monochromatic works from here on out, which shade would you choose?

Probably red. Color does play a big role; it works in different series. If red works on one piece, I’ll do that for the next ten and get sick of it, move on to blue. But yeah, red is the most striking color in any shade. It also has something to say by way of what it means to both me and to the viewer. Whether it looks like your grandmother’s trademark lipstick or your favorite pair of socks, it relates to the most random of things.

What’s something that everyone should know about you?

Everyone should know that I’ve taken to carpeting my dorm room. I tell people and they’re confused at what that means. I quite like the aesthetic of putting carpet where it shouldn’t be. So I’ve carpeted the wall behind my bed, and I’ve carpeted my dresser.

Is it like, a headboard-type situation?

You could say that. Some people don’t agree, but I would say that there’s definitely a 70s vibe going on, which I’m quite enjoying.

Who do you make art for and why do you continue?

Interesting question. I’d say I make it for myself, but I don’t know. I get very sick of my work very quickly. I think I make it mainly because it’s something that I have to do. Not in a pretentious way or in like, a tortured artist way. I spend so much time doing many different things that don’t relate to my actual passions in life, and this is something that’s very important to me. Whether I’m good at it or not, it’s something that I want to pursue. In thinking about what I want to do, and who I want to be, I want to be someone who creates things.

Anything else you’d like to add? Closing remarks?

I’m a culturally-confused collage artist. Living in New York. Doing my thing. Rowing on the Harlem River, but also going into creative frenzies on the carpet of my dorm room. Yeah.