An Interview with Adam Carnes

October 17, 2017

Tulsa Art Studio Tour

“My Good Arm” Oil and Shellac on Board

In conjunction with our Tulsa Art Studio Tour, we sent our Tour artists some questions to gain valuable insight to life as an artist and hear about where their inspiration comes from.

Where are you originally from and how did you come to be a practicing artist in Tulsa?

“I moved to Tulsa from Brooklyn, NYC and was awarded the Tulsa Artist Fellowship. But, I grew up in central Florida.”

Tell us a little bit about your work and the processes you utilize.

“I make giant fleshy and flaccid paintings called CHUNKISM and travel around the United States, confronting the public. These Fleshscapes dropped in a casual everyday setting shakes things up! Getting people to think what reality is and what it means. My process is traditionally rooted, very much based on the history of portraiture and painting. Conceptually, I am looking to comment on what it means to live our time. With virtually everyone having a smartphone our lives exist in a hyper-reality and our portrait, identity and image are constantly being captured and manipulated. Whether we like this or not, it’s just the way it is and will be. There’s this new audio technology from Adobe, that’s designed for the movie industry. You only have to sample a person talking for seconds and then you can type into the audio application whatever you wish to have the person say and the app realistically creates a false audio. If you overlay this on a manipulated video, you can fabricate a false reality and pass it off as fake news. With the rate society is consuming information; it doesn’t even matter if the news is real. Many people will take it for granted and now the public has to debate or debunk whether it’s true or false. By the time the truth is revealed, a war could have broken out. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have this technology, I am just wondering how our world looks and hope that people will do the right thing.

I don’t believe in censorship, but we should discuss how these things affect our lives. We are even on the verge of designing human DNA and producing the “ideal” person or at least altering the genes to our liking. Currently, you can order a gene hacking kit in the USA and mix the DNA of various species, there’s no regulation here. You don’t even need the creature, DNA cartridges print A’s, C’s, G’s, T’s and it’s surprisingly easy. Josiah Zayner has already injected jellyfish DNA into his arm to have his tattoo glow and performed a DIY fecal transplant to cure his irritable bowel syndrome. These kits range from $80-$999.

It’s appalling to see racism and hate so prevalent still, how will this technology be used with a mindset like this? Also, our ecosystems are so fragile, when you start fudging with Mother Nature’s laws will new viruses spring up. Will our immune systems become obsolete when engineered humans are at the top of the food chain?”


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Are there any people in your life or in the greater art world that have played a role in your work?

“ When I worked with Red Grooms in NYC he shared his studio space with me. So, I was able to produce these giant paintings. It was sort of a fellowship. There were many times projects would slow down and he would find random duties around the studio to keep me afloat while I freelanced and gave me a place to keep painting. He always promoted working part-time so that I could focus on painting. One day he came back from traveling and saw the first fleshy painting and yelled out “CHUNKISM” laughing. I loved it and ran with it. That’s how the series started. We always threw ideas around and spent many days just discussing art. He was definitely a mentor and I loved his big ideas, happy-go-lucky personality. But, what I learned the most from him was how he spent more time taking an interest in other people. I try to live my life this way. His own studio was filled mostly with artists he collected and wasn’t worried about an art collector get interested in someone else. He was just genuinely fascinated with people and their stories. It was rare to experience such a selfless and highly successful person, well at least from my professional experiences.  Also, I would have to say Steven Assael technically influenced me the most. He’s the Buddha of drawing, teaching more philosophically as opposed to a rigid formulaic method and exclusively works from life. He would reference Greek philosophers, chess, and Bruce Lee. When you watch his painting demos, they are chaotic and magical, all at the same time. You can’t believe what’s unfolding before your eyes. Kind of like looking at a molecule, up close it seems all over the place, but somehow there’s this perfect underlying structure. I was always seduced by this dance. For years, I could never afford to take one of his $1000+ workshops so I would pull images and content off the web to study him and even did master copies of his work. One day some friends at a local atelier, told me he was doing a demo at the University of Tampa, an hour from where I lived at the time. I called in sick at my day job and snuck into the workshop. During a break, I started asking him questions and all of the sudden he says, “are you a teacher”? I say no. He asks, “A student”. I say no. He laughs under his breath and gives me a slightly judgmental look. But he was so humble, the judgment subsided quickly. Afterwards, he gave a slideshow lecture and as he was leaving I bombarded him, asking for a quick critique on a two by three-foot painting, which I was shamelessly holding in my arms lol. He looked pretty irritated, but says in his New York tongue, “OK, I’ll make it quick! I can’t get past these Schlocky marks. Your work is too focused on technique and not to draw from photographs. You need to draw more, a lot more. “Eventually, I ended up borrowing money so that I could actually take his workshop and years later took classes with him in grad school at the New York Academy of Art. I even ended up becoming his assistant and helped teach his classes. One day he was getting ready to fly to Italy and a $120,000 painting at Forum Gallery got dinged. He didn’t have time to touch it up and he asked me to do it. He gave me a quick rundown on what colors and medium to use. I walked into the galleries back framing room and saw his massive life-size “Venus Pregnant” painting sitting right before my eyes. I was so nervous, I couldn’t believe I was touching up one of his pieces let alone one of my favorite paintings he made. Definitely was a pinnacle moment when I realized, I guess I’ve done something right.”

What are some challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?

“The adversity of enduring the life of an artist, thickening your skin and maintaining faith. It took me many years of juggling low paying jobs, learning related trades and moonlighting to develop an appropriate technique, concept, drawing ability and enough maturity to learn what not to do. Editing is crucial, it’s what separates a professional artist from an amateur.”

What is the weirdest thing in your studio?

“The mounds of flesh.”

Is there any advice you’d like to give to someone who is aspiring to follow in your footsteps?

“Never give up, surrounded yourself with people who are better than you and move to a big city, at least for a few years. There’s no substitution for that crash course in culture, just dive in.”


The 2017 Tulsa Art Studio Tour is Saturday and Sunday, October 21-22, from noon to 5pm each day.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit: