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By NOAH BECKER, JUN. 2017
In April 1982, Adam Krueger’s parents moved into his childhood home in Elburn, a small town in the cornfields in Illinois. “I was born a couple weeks later,” Krueger says. “They planned to have some time to set up and settle in before I was born, but I had a different agenda and was born two months premature, not allowing them much time to decorate.” Elburn is as isolated as it sounds. There is one stoplight, a John Deer farming equipment dealership, and a meat market with award winning beef jerky. “In all honesty it was a perfect place to grow up and nurture my love of creating. It was a very relaxed setting which allowed me to spend time drawing and not distracted by the hustle bustle,” he recalls. However, it was only 43 miles west of Chicago, and Krueger had the opportunity to experience the art and culture of a big city as well.
Noah Becker: What do your parents do, and are they supportive of you making art?
Adam Krueger: My parents were by no means artists, but definitely influenced my work as an artist. As a kindergarten teacher, my mother inspired me to retain a sense of childhood imagination. My father’s career as a dentist encouraged my focus and attention to detail. I like to think of my work as playful “drilling and filling." I come from an amazingly loving and supportive family. I am one of the lucky creative types that does not need to use art as a vice to deal with an offbeat childhood. Early on my parents recognized my creative potential, and at the age of six enrolled me in after-school art class and art competitions. Throughout the years they observed my dedication and happiness while creating, and researched the best art schools to apply for college.
NB: Is New York an important place to live in relation to your art practice?
AK: When I left RISD I needed to decide which city I wanted to bring my art practice to. This played a huge roll in which graduate program to attend. As I’m sure you know through your experiences, New York City can be listed as another medium of the artwork category. This city has a huge influence on what we create, how it is created, and who is going to be able to experience it. I am enjoying New York more now than I did at the time of our last interview when I was living in a shoebox in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I moved to Bushwick, Brooklyn not too long after our chat and realized it is a much better fit for the creation of my art- not as hectic, way less distraction and a ridiculous increase in space.
NB: Do you have a favorite piece in your current solo show?
AK: It’s hard to say because this show is very multidisciplinary in the creation and display of my concepts, which are tied together with a common thread. I can say the piece that played the most integral part in the evolution of the show was my oil painting, “Security Blanket”. It consists of 600 miniature photo realistic paintings, shaped and glued together to form a kaleidoscope-patterned quilt. I started this quilt around the time I made the decision to not show my art for a while. I wanted to focus on making a more concise, conceptual and less figurative body of work. My art practice requires extreme focus and is a sensitive process. I often have to tune out my girlfriend who rips ass to remind me she’s still there! The first month of working on the piece I designed the pattern and decided on the images and subject matter. As I worked I fantasized about odd scenarios and disrupted them. The result was a bizarre, non-linear narrative that tells itself. The painting took 3 ½ years, but I’m proud of the fact I didn’t rush any of the intricate little shapes. When I had about 20 left I was restless waiting to see the result- but what could have been Chinese water torture was actually a pretty enjoyable experience.
NB: You have great tattoos, is there a favorite tattoo and do your tattoos relate to your paintings in some way?
AK: Well, thank you Noah, but between flying turtles, home alone references and peg legs I don’t have any one favorite tattoo. Most of my tattoos are extremely personal, representing a specific person or experience in my life. I put a lot of thought into my tattoos and approached several of my hybrid sculptures in the same way. One of my pieces includes an oil painting of my favorite meal; simple eggs and toast. I intertwined a tarot spread made from tarot card images I designed and tattooed onto silicone rubber. I researched different styles and symbols found in traditional tarot cards, specifically the Rider Waite deck, and projected myself into the picture as a collection of self-portraits. In my newest sculpture, I also tattooed sheets of silicon rubber and constructed them into a saggy box of crackers. I placed the box in a set of oil-painted cotton underwear hanging by suspenders. The suspenders were forged from a plaid-patterned oil painting on canvas and joined by tattooed silicon. I was thrilled to be able to incorporate my admiration of tattoos and the process of tattooing into my three dimensional paintings. The new addition motions to how deeply the conception of my work is embedded in the self.
NB: How has your work changed since we last did an interview together?
AK: When Jenny Mushkin-Goldman (the brilliant creator of KIN+GOLD), and I were planning this exhibition “En Caul”, we brainstormed how to highlight the way my work has transformed while adhering to the theme of skin as a barrier. Since I did step away from showing my work for a couple years, I did not want to fully abandon where I left off. I included an older figurative painting “Fly in Ointment” which I feel was a launching point for the creation of this body of work in that it alludes to some of the private, intimate moments personified in the new series of object-oriented subject matter. The concept behind the objects is based on the psychological theory of transitional objects, and the role they play in our lives. The objects are stand-ins for people that have left my life, either temporarily due to distance, or permanently exiled from my day to day as a result of more disruptive circumstances.
NB: Do you have a job other than being an artist?
Like many artists, through the years I’ve kept a variety of jobs to support myself, but they have always been art-related. For many years I’ve assisted a well-known conceptual artist. There is so much to learn within the art world that they don’t teach in school, and it’s important to take initiative and seek it out. Deciding to assist/apprentice under a conceptual artist rather than a “painter” was a great choice. I have had the opportunity to observe his method of finding a unique and concise way to translate his intention to the viewer. His example has been a useful reference in curating my career choices. I’ve learned the business side of the art world, which is half the battle. I also take on commissions, freelance work and tattooing.
NB: Much of your work has a Trompe-l’oeil aspect. I’ve seen this develop over the years. Are you planning to do more works of this kind?
AK: While in school I practiced the traditional use of “trompe l’oeil” painting. In recent years I have retained a photorealistic painting technique, but transformed the paintings or drawings into actual three-dimensional sculptures. Cutting the objects out and placing them directly onto the wall, in baggies, or glued together to create new forms, allows me to step away from a more traditional approach. I’m truly happy if I’m able to step outside of my comfort zone and discover a new, unusual process of making art. For this show I had a blast finding the perfect housing for the graphite drawings to reference the scenarios I dreamt up for them. The result was a new sculpture consisting of a painted corkboard interior with a wood and concrete shadow box frame, reminiscent of a padded cell.
NB: Did you start as a less interesting artist and become a more interesting artist, or have you always been making great work?
AK: Ha ha ha ha, I think we all look back at some of the art we used to make and would love to paint over the signature and not claim it as our own. When I was younger, my focus was to build my technical skills by painting replicas of magazine clippings or classic works. In Grad school I turned away from making crowd-pleasing artwork and synthesized my mastery of subject matter to develop procedures and ideas I was personally connected to.
NB: What is your biggest distraction?
AK: I used to think I needed to let loose and party to combat my workaholism. Ultimately I realized that coping mechanism was counterproductive, decreased my productivity and led to more stress. Now I would have to say my biggest distraction is cherry-picking what I want to work on to a disadvantage. Nowadays an artist getting recognition for slaving away in their studio is a dinosaur. It is equally important to network and promote your work in our newly connected world. But creating is just too damn fun!
NB: What would you like to see happen with your career over the next few years?
AK: All I want is for my hard work and dedication to pay off. I want to be happy and make my galleries and collectors happy. I would love to be represented in other countries, continue creating and find a way to sustain a 50-year career. WM
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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