‘Albert Adams never forgot his South African roots or the degradation caused by Apartheid’

Self Portrait by Albert Adams

Self Portrait by Albert Adams - Credit: Archant

Camden Town teacher Albert Adams died in relative obscurity but has posthumously been recognised as an important South African artist, on show at Islington’s Art Space gallery

When Albert Adams died in 2006, he left behind work that led to him being hailed an important South African artist.

But for 40 years the teacher and university lecturer worked in self-imposed obscurity in his top floor studio in Camden Town his work hardly seen outside his circle of friends.

Born to a Hindu father and mother categorized as ‘Cape Coloured’ under the apartheid system, he was denied a place at Cape Town’s school of Fine Art, under the policy of ‘separate development’.

Working as a window-dresser, he was befriended by Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany Seigert Eick and Rudolph Von Freiling, and by South African artist Irma Stern. Recognising his talent they helped him gain a scholarship at the Slade where he studied from 1953-56 under printmaker Anthony Gross. A further scholarship led to study at the Munich Academy then in Salzburg with Oskar Kokoschka.

Adams moved permanently to the UK in 1959, setting up home with life partner Edward Glennon in Camden while teaching in East End schools. Posthumously recognized with exhibitions at the South African National Gallery, his prints and drawings are now shown at Islington’s Art Space Gallery.

Influenced by his own exile and alienation Adams’ work draws on the voices of the marginalized and his belief in art to transform man’s inhumanity to man.

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His series on incarceration - several cousins had been imprisoned on Robben Island for political activism - also drew on atrocities in Darfur, Angola, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Several self portraits and animal series, both wild and forced into unnatural environments, owe a debt to Stern, and to German expressionism, pushing the expressive possibilities of printmaking to its limits.

Joe Dolby, Curator of Prints and Drawings at Cape Town’s Iziko South African National Gallery says: “His was a vision and identity forged in the crucible of apartheid but whose range was universal and timeless.”

Michael Sandle RA in his essay writes that as soon as he saw Adam’s work: “I could sense immediately the extraordinary breadth of his enquiring mind coupled with his powerful emotional engagement. He wasn’t interested in doing art to for commercial gain. For him being an artist was a vocation.”

“There is a lot of pain in his work which is what makes it so compelling. He never forgot his South African roots or the degradation caused by Apartheid. To his everlasting credit, Albert Adams bore witness”.

Until January 26. artspacegallery.co.uk, St Peter’s Street N1.

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