Fire & Rain
By Cat Acree / May 2016
Photography by Brittany Wood
“There’s a side to water and ocean paintings and river paintings that evokes this whole realm of emotion for people.”
From distant forest fires to choppy oceans, the expansive vistas of Adam Hall’s oversize oil paintings survey nature’s quiet power from a safe distance.
These are scenes we know: Heavy clouds hang over dark hills. A faraway fire sends a pillar of black smoke to unfathomable heights. A shoreline appears through the mist. Hall’s minimalist landscapes are partially imagined and partially inspired by memories and photographs, and into these scenes we can place ourselves.
Much of Hall’s success must be attributed to fellow artist David Wright, whose paintings capture a love for American history and the Western frontier, and whose advice for Hall came at exactly the right moment. After graduating from Trevecca Nazarene University, Hall was pursing a career in recording engineering. When he wasn’t touring with bands, he was at home, painting folk art and some charcoal portraits, pieces of excruciating detail that he describes as “painful.” Says Hall: “I was at a place in my artistic career where it just felt like it was going to be a hobby forever.”
Then in 2006, after tornados decimated Gallatin, Tennessee, Adam and a few friends grabbed chainsaws and set out to clear trees from an area picked at random. They ended up on the property of artist David Wright. After speaking to Hall and hearing of his frustrations, Wright suggested he try landscapes, which might offer the freedom and ease that were missing from his work.
It’s a change for which Hall is eminently thankful, not only for the renewed passion but also for the translatable nature of landscapes. “Every human being in the world can relate to a landscape painting,” says Hall.
Perhaps there is nothing more relatable than water, which can seem inviting or threatening, can provide answers or provoke more questions. Inspired by a conversation between the artist and his wife as they wondered how to “keep [their] heads above water,” Hall’s paintings often feel as though the viewer has just surfaced from the waves, their heads emerging for a desperate breath.
“There’s a side to water and ocean paintings and river paintings that evokes this whole realm of emotion for people,” Hall says. “For some people it’s joy, for some it’s fear because they’re scared of dark water . . . [It] gets to them and draws them in.”
Hall’s landlocked horizons, filled with cloudscapes and billowing towers of smoke, often feel more removed than the water paintings, like looking out through tall windows, safe within your home. Hall’s fire scenes often stem from his own childhood, when he would join his stepfather, a volunteer fireman, during controlled fires and natural brush fires. He describes sitting on his stepfather’s truck bed and watching a fire ravage a house or someone’s crops. The fire brought tragedy—but it brought hope as a community came together to protect its own.
As epic and vast as these landscapes may be, Hall’s own freedom is vanishing, and so his paintings have begun to change. He’s a new father with two sons—three-year-old Luca and one-and-a-half-year-old Leo—and his home studio in Franklin offers little separation from the daily demands of parenthood.
“It’s made everything harder,” Hall says. “At the same time I was transitioning into kids, my work was transitioning, tightening in. Before, I could paint a painting in a couple days, whereas now I’m focusing more on detail and trying to get things more refined, and that takes longer.”
A busy life will blur vision, Hall explains, and beauty requires stillness. And so the freedom of his work has succumbed to necessary structure. He is using less palette knife and more brushwork. He’s returning to details that he once rejected: delicate leaves, the backs of people’s heads, claustrophobic trees. “Having structure in place is the only way for me, in this season of my life, to get anything done.”
Though there is continued demand for cloudscapes and ocean views, Hall’s next show at Robert Lange Studios in Charleston, South Carolina, will showcase this new structure. The exhibition is tentatively titled The Untamable, for the idea that nature cannot be controlled and is merely waiting to take over the spaces we leave behind.
For more information visit www.adamhallart.com.