5 Things You Should Know About | Derrick Adams
News / Meet The Artist

5 Things You Should Know About | Derrick Adams

17 May 2021

One of America’s foremost contemporary artists, Adams is making waves in the UK too. Read on to find out more about him…

1. He comes from a family of high achievers

Adams is the cousin of Def Jam records founder Russell Simmons and his brothers, Reverend Run of Run DMC and neo-African abstract expressionist painter Danny Simmons. For eight years straight out of art school, Adams worked as the curatorial and gallery director of RUSH, a not-for-profit foundation set up by his cousins to champion under-represented black artists, with gallery spaces in New York and Philadelphia.

The artist at work in his studio, 2020. Photographed by Richard Kern

The artist at work in his studio, 2020. Photographed by Richard Kern

Avenue Magazine

2. He has impeccable credentials

His employment wasn’t down to nepotism: Adams has an exemplary artistic education. After a BA in Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute, Adams went on to complete a Masters at Columbia, where he also taught other students. During his time at RUSH, he was known for building the careers of other artists, but in 2009 Adams decided to focus on his own work – and it wasn’t long before his career went stratospheric.

Floater No. 58 (Two Rafts) by Derrick Adams, 2017. Acrylic paint, pencil and fabric on paper.

Floater No. 58 (Two Rafts) by Derrick Adams, 2017. Acrylic paint, pencil and fabric on paper.

Rhona Hoffman Gallery

3. His works look fun – but they have a serious side

In an illuminating interview with Whitewall, Adams spoke about his observation that “certain aspects of a perspective of black America are not highlighted—success and normalcy, the triumphant things that happen within the culture.” This perception has driven much of Adam’s work over the last few years, notably 2016’s seminal Floater series, which focused on black people enjoying leisure time in swimming pools. The series rightly placed black people in imagery from which they had often been excluded – but it also celebrated their relatively newly-found freedoms (black people were banned from America’s public pools as recently as the first half of the 20th century).

In 2019’s Beauty World, Adams touched on black female identity and empowerment, drawing on inspiration from Brooklyn’s nail salons and layering make-up and hair on top of his images with acrylics. In the same year, Derrick explored black home life in Interior Life at Luxembourg + Dayan, which peeked into his character’s houses and minds: Hang Up is lucky enough to have editions from this exhibition available to buyers.

Style Variation 33, Style Variation 29 and Style Variation 35 by Derrick Adams, 2020.
Style Variation 33, Style Variation 29 and Style Variation 35 by Derrick Adams, 2020.
Style Variation 33, Style Variation 29 and Style Variation 35 by Derrick Adams, 2020.

Style Variation 33, Style Variation 29 and Style Variation 35 by Derrick Adams, 2020.

Salon 94

"I became interested in having conversations in line with what I like to do in my work, showing African American culture, black culture, from an American perspective. Certain aspects of a perspective of black America are not highlighted—success and normalcy, the triumphant things that happen within the culture."

Derrick Adams, 2018

A painting from Derrick Adams' Beauty World series in Beyonce's Black Is King

A painting from Derrick Adams' Beauty World series in Beyonce's Black Is King

Disney+

4. Adams’ work isn’t just for the gallery

Adams’ work resides in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Birmingham Museum of Art – but it’s not just confined to the gallery space. Watch Beyoncés 2020 visual album, Black Is King (released in collaboration with Disney+) and you’ll see a picture from the Beauty World series in an art-drenched mansion, being gazed upon by a lady in leopard print. Another place you can catch the artist’s work is his hometown of Brooklyn, where he recently created an 85-panel glass mural for Nostrand Avenue Train Station, just round the corner from his studio. Depicting people interspersed with roads, buildings and rail tracks, it’s typical of his signature abstract style. Fans of the Floater series can even wear a Derrick Adams: thanks to a collaboration with swimwear company Vilbrequin, his characters now grace a selection of trunks.

Figure in the Urban Landscape 31 by Derrick Adams, 2019. Acrylic, graphite, ink, fabric on paper, model cars on wood panel.

Figure in the Urban Landscape 31 by Derrick Adams, 2019. Acrylic, graphite, ink, fabric on paper, model cars on wood panel.

Rhona Hoffman Gallery

5. The artist’s star is rising

Christie’s recently named Adams as one of six postwar and contemporary artists to add to a collection, and auction sales of his work regularly command five figure sums. This year, his work Figure In The Urban Landscape 31 achieved $250,000, busting its high estimate by $100,000. At Hang Up, we have a selection of coveted Derrick Adams editions available to buyers. See them here, and please get in touch if you’d like to know more.

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