What About Bob?

Bob Adams, 45, hasn’t stopped making art. True, Adams -- who made a name for himself more than a decade ago with thoughtful pen-and-ink drawings, paintings, and portrait silhouettes -- hasn’t mounted a gallery show in a while. But he hasn’t given up on art, either; he’s lately been teaching at the Art Institute of Phoenix, and creating gorgeous and useful public art like the RAPID bus stop benches throughout Phoenix and that cool “hall of mirrors” at Phoenix Theatre.

I saw Bob in the john. It makes me laugh how often my work ends up in people's bathrooms. I go into people's bathrooms and they'll have one of my pieces hanging over their toilet. Whatever -- I find it funny. I know there's a certain perversity to my work, and maybe people get the art home and they're embarrassed by my desire to use the power of words and objects to shock or to make you think. Which of course leads to being hung above the toilet, I guess.

Didn't I sit on you recently? I like the challenge of the limitations in public art. There are a lot of compromises, which produces a different kind of process. When I'm doing my own work, I create the limits, whereas public art creates the limits for me. Public work is art that's functional, which saves me from getting jaded about art in general. You can be creating something and ask yourself, "Why am I making this?" When it's a bench, you know the answer: So someone will have a place to sit while they wait for the bus.

On playing with dolls: No one has seen them, really, but I've been working on origami people -- male and female figures that are made of folded-up paper. And I've been working on these pieces that are made from vintage doll parts. I buy the parts from Diane Ribbon and Notions, and then I assemble them into these shapes -- I can't really describe them. I'm sure that when my daughter's friends come over and see piles of little plastic arms and legs, they're thinking, "Hmm . . ." But fortunately my wife doesn't seem to mind.

On painting in semen and blood: I did a series of paintings in semen and blood that really freaked people out. I think the subject matter, especially the semen pieces, which are of children, really made a lot of people uncomfortable once they found out what they were made of. They're mostly of young children, taken from old drawings and reworked. The semen paintings are almost like ghost paintings; I couldn't really see what I was painting, but then as they aged they took on this really beautiful gold patina.

On cactus eggs and Laura Bush: I was in this competition by the Arizona State Egg Board, where you send in an egg to represent your state. I won, and the prize was a trip to the White House to meet Laura Bush. But I didn't realize that egg-decorating is an art form, mostly for older women. They cover them with rhinestones and cut out little parts of the shell and it's all very elaborate. I didn't know you have to reinforce the egg before you decorate it, so the first one I mailed to the competition got broken, and I had to make a second one.

I made my egg look like a cactus, with little nails coming out for the quills. I went to this thing, and I was the only man there. And my egg looked nothing like the others there -- they were all these brightly colored little Fabergé-like eggs, and then you had mine, this kind of puke-green one with nails coming out of it. Anyway, I did it for my daughter, to give her the chance to visit the White House. We met Laura Bush, which was fun. But the thing I remember most is how dilapidated the White House looked. I had this idea in my mind of how it would look, and all I could do as I walked through was notice how the walls needed to be painted and where the floor was chipped. It was sad, because all I could think was, "They really need to fix this place up."

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela