Paris Dream'n / Philip Slein Gallery 2010

Jamie Adams at Philip Slein

The cult status of American actress Jean Seberg, star of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960), is partly due to her elfin looks and fashionable cropped hairdo; it is also fueled by a fascination with her erratic career and troubled personal life.  Her acting was by turns savaged and celebrated; her marriages were multiple and rocky; and her 1979 death may or may not have been a suicide.  St. Louis-based painter Jamie Adams has successfully tapped Seberg’s tragic ambiguity, positioning the actress as both muse and lead character in his “jeannie” series, which comprises masterfully rendered academic-style pieces that were on view in this exhibition, “Paris Dream’n.”

The 49 works, ranging from 2005 to 2011, included salon-style groups of oil paintings and studies, as well as conté, pastel and ink drawings.  Seberg appears in most, often accompanied by a doting companion (the avatar of the artist himself).  Jeanniestretch (2010) was the visual anchor of the show.  The large, sleekly finished grisaille painting depicts an improbably robust Seberg with exaggerated classical proportions.  Seated nude, she leans back on one arm, while a waif in unbuttoned jeans lies at her side.  Elsewhere, Adams transforms a bedroom setting from Breathless into a 19th-century painter’s atelier, crowded with buxom models, artists with sketchbooks and Seberg, either donning underwear or a man’s dress shirt and striking poses that recall Jacques-Louis David’s solid Neo-Classicism or Eugène Delacroix’s Romantic abandon.

On the basis of these works—equal parts autobiography, New Wave cinema, soft-porn fantasy and art history—one might be tempted to group Adams with the likes of Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin, the artist’s contemporaries; yet he lacks both their seamy excesses and their kitsch sensibilities.  Adams’s approach is refreshingly irony-free, and he’s outright smitten with Seberg.  This fact is especially evident in the beautiful, sure-handed conté and pastel studies of the actress (2009) as well as in jeanniecouple sketch #4 (2010, colored pencil on paper), in which the artist—in an unmistakable self-portrait—gazes at the model fixedly over his priapically extended goatee.

In many ways, Adams’s practice embodies the historical studio scenes conjured in his images.  Besides the Seberg works, this exhibition included studies after old masters and precise anatomical sketches (Adams teaches anatomy at Washington University in St. Louis).  He has done residencies in Florence and Paris, and the romance of the atelier tradition suffuses his work.  For her part, Seberg was hardly a romantic, particularly on the subject of her own craft (she once claimed that her work involved “making films in France about people I’m not really interested in”).  But she’s precisely what Adams needs to achieve his fantasia on the theme of the classical studio: a beautiful cipher, the embodiment of projected desire.

Ivy Cooper, Art in America, May 2011