Cey Adams: ETCetera | 40 Years of Art and Design

Cey Adams: ETCetera | 40 Years of Art and Design

NewStudio Gallery welcomes the return of the Brooklyn-based, superstar artist and graphic designer.

He’s a legendary New York City graffiti artist, was the founding creative director of Def Jam Recordings (he designed the Beastie Boys’ logo), and has exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and MoCA Los Angeles. He’s collaborated with national brands and painted murals across the country, including in St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone. Cey Adams is back in the house.  

The exhibition features new work by Adams representing his 40-year career in art and design, and work revisiting past inspirations from a new perspective. Visit with Adams during the exhibition’s free opening reception on Saturday, May 21, 5-8 p.m., at NewStudio Gallery. 

On Sunday, May 22, at 1:00 p.m., at NewStudio Gallery, Adams talks with Wes Winship and Mike Davis (Burlesque of North America). Adams will discuss his evolution from street artist to graphic designer, educator, author, and multi-disciplinary artist. The exhibition closes on August 12, 2022. All work in the exhibition, including pieces designed by Adams and screen printed by Burlesque, are available for purchase. 

Adams’ career began as a tagger during his teenage years. “I was fascinated by the calligraphy. I loved the way it looked,” he says. He emerged from the downtown graffiti movement to exhibit alongside fellow artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Adams also appeared in the historic 1982 PBS documentary Style Wars.

He became the Creative Director of Hip-Hop mogul Russell Simmons’ Def Jam Recordings, and co-founded the Drawing Board, the label’s in-house visual design firm, where he created visual identities, album covers, logos, and advertising campaigns for Run DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Notorious B.I.G., Maroon 5, and Jay-Z. 

In his later body of work titled “Trusted Brands,” Adams created a series of paintings that explore our fascination, and hypnotic relationship with, brand loyalty. The images, characters, and mascots in these pieces are metaphors for analyzing larger questions about the “celebration" of American culture.

Companies including Pabst Blue Ribbon, Pepsi, Levi’s, and Bombay Bramble also hired Adams to create new work. “Brand integrity is a huge part of what I do,” says Adams. “When I’m making a product for Pabst, it might be their logo but it’s my vision, my version of storytelling. Same with the American flag. I’m not moving things around, changing the color or orientation; instead, I’m telling my story within those stars and stripes.” 

With this exhibition, Adams says, “I’m revisiting things I’ve worked on since 1980 up to the present day. While my son Eric wasn’t born when I started my career, he’s working with me on artworks created for this exhibition.” 

All of the work is original and on paper. Among the pieces are collages combining numbers, paint, paper, text, imagery, and technique into visual storytelling. “These works explore ways to convey visual messages using color, style, shape, form, texture, lines, and curves,” Adams says. “The beautiful geometric shapes of the numbers are rooted in graphic design.”

Adams, 59, began making art when he was a teenager. “I’m excited to still be here; I’m a representative for my generation of artists,” he says. This exhibition, documents his longevity and the creative impulse that continues to inspire new work. “To have started so young, and to still be making work at a high level, that’s my definition of success.” 

The just-released Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap, which Adams designed, will be available for purchase, as will his books Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label (Rizzoli), and The Mash Up: Hip-Hop Photos Remixed by Iconic Graffiti Artists (Hat & Beard, LLC.)   

Additional Bio: 

Cey Adams’ studio work explores the relationship between transformation and discovery. His practice involves dismantling various imagistic and paper elements, which he collects at vintage and estate sales, to build intriguing layers of color, texture, shadow, and light. He draws inspiration from 60’s pop art, sign painting, comic books, iconic logos and brands, the Civil Rights Movement and black pride, and popular culture. He likens the creative collage process to “improvisational jazz.” 

He exhibits, lectures, and teaches art workshops at institutions including: Walker Art Center, MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, Museum of the City of New York, New York University, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, MoCA Los Angeles, Pratt Institute, Stamford University, Howard University, Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, High Museum, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Mount Royal University, and The University of Winnipeg in Canada. 

He designed and co-authored DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop, published by Harper-Collins; and designed Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label, published by Rizzoli. His book, The Mash Up: Hip-Hop Photos Remixed by Iconic Graffiti Artists, was published by Hat & Beard, LLC. He designed the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap, released Fall 2021, and produced by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

In 2019, Adams was one of 12 national artists chosen to participate in the first annual Chroma Zone mural fest. He painted his LOVE mural on the side of the Hampden Park Co-op in St. Paul. 

Gallery Hours

Monday - Friday 10:00AM - 4:00PM 

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