Adam Barry in his space at Studio 17
Adam Barry

Time is running out—I stopped into Lexie’s space to photograph the maze from her ladder—to capture the overhead perspective of all these studio walls. Climbing down the ladder, I exit Lexie’s space and turn the corner to arrive at Adam’s space—there is an intense beam of light coming from the skylight at this hour—it is 2:30 in the afternoon—the light is falling directly on him and his desk—he looks like a Renaissance figure illuminated by a church window.

Studio Materials used by Adam Barry
Materials in the studio

Intuition and experimentation—in an artists’ studio these are the modes that dominate. Intuition is something we know outside our conscious reasoning—and experimentation is an organized procedure with the goal of establishing proof of the hypothesis. When we look at art, we are looking at an experience made into physical material—at its height an art piece will give a tactility—a re-experience.

In the fragments of light on the floor and on shelves are stacks of sketch books—thousands of drawings in black ink—they are dense and loose—the energy is dense—the line is loose—“All this is like practice,” Adam says, “A progression” “It’s really about the materials” —some of these sketches are no larger than a fist—they float on white pages—the energy of the line makes me think of the physicality of Giacommetti’s or Henry Moore’s drawings—an expression of something that inhabits three dimensional space. Adam opens his sketchbook—line is material— “I see this being made of rope drenched in tar” — he turns the pages of a sketch book— “This is a harsh material—something like rock but not rock” —as he talks all these black ink marks take on substance—

Sketchbook of drawings by Adam Barry
Sketchbook of drawings

“Ideas just come to me.” I picture Adam being struck by ideas like the light is striking his face—when the ideas first came he was in college—he mentioned these ideas to his father—“What should I do about them?”— His father simply stated— “Take a painting class.” It’s like he simply said—go manifest them.

Tar ink
Tar ink

There is enormous skill needed to master a material—each material requires a new mastery—resin—metal—wax—plaster—fabric— “every material has it’s own challenge— getting the idea and executing the idea are two different things” —Adam is stubborn—he will work with the material—attempt to get it to do what he wants it to do—and he recognizes the enormous task that learning these materials requires.

A thousand pages of ink—is practice—and the physicality of his vision and passion for material is inside the sketch books—lines drenched in tar—locked in an aluminum cage—it is the “Idea” that leads him to art—and the material that binds him to it—“There is stuff I haven’t done—the ideas always outnumber the time I have.”

Ink drawing by Adam Barry
Ink drawing

Time is critical—time as an open ended prospect—where material can be turned over—contended with—where the artist works to control the attributes and learns what the material offers to the vision—time must feel expansive—soon it will become hard to create in this space—because the time no longer feels like it can expand—it is contracting in on the wall. When I look from Lexie’s ladder at the studios below—it feels already like memory—or like we are hovering—like we are being physically folded into cardboard boxes that balance on ledges—and we are fighting a silent, encroaching machine.

About STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space by Alex Nichols

At the end of June—a community of over 70 artists—at the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District—must leave STUDIO 17 to make way for high-cost working space. This blog will catalog the end of this community above Thrift Town (on Mission &17th Street) and what it means. To understand what is being lost—I will spend the next two months carefully observing how artists work in their space—to give an intimate look at the inside of this community.

More about Alex Nichols:

Read more:

Feature on Alex Nichols and STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space

How the journey began… STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space by Alex Nichols

More Featured Artists:

Lucinda Buxton Martin

Rick D’Elia

Jeffrey Martin


Daniel Lichtenberg

Ellen Rosenthal

Lauren Marchetti

Adam Barry

Lexie Bouwsma

Denise Laws

Andy Vogt

Qinmin Liu

Truong Tran

Kate Nichols

Published on April 14, 2015

Published by Alex Nichols

Alex Nichols is a San Francisco based interdisciplinary artist and writer who deconstructs the experience of self, tracks the perceived and performs the narrated idea of self through a disarming physicality, rigor and humor. Her current projects utilize video, monologue, performance, and installation, reconstructing the physical boxes, strings and language of constraints.


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