The LA-based artist conjures magical worlds and invites us to explore them together "like a shared dream". We share some highlights of his upcoming exhibition, The Brush and the Torch.
We've long been a fan of figurative painter Adrian Cox here at Creative Boom, most recently sharing his series Into the Spirit Garden back in 2020. So we're excited to learn that his next major solo show is coming to Los Angeles' Corey Helford Gallery (CHG) this June.
The Los Angeles-based creative is known for crafting intricate and epic mythology with his paintings. Typically, they draw inspiration from art history, science fiction, mythic archetypes, and his experience of growing up in a closeted queer family and explore questions of identity, spirituality, and our relationship with the natural world.
Cox's new show will feature 25 new works, marking his largest solo exhibition to date and fourth at the gallery. We're thrilled to be able to share some of the highlights here, as well as the thinking behind it.
Reflecting on creativity
"The Brush and the Torch is an exploration of the nature and source of creativity," Cox explains. "In this exhibition, my work veers into territory that could be considered Visionary art and a number of the paintings incorporate archetypes from the tarot. The story that unfolds suggests the importance of cultivating internal imaginal landscapes and depicts spiritual development as an engagement with the world rather than a departure from it. Ultimately, however, I created these paintings to symbolise something beyond the reach of discursive thought."
One particular favourite of his is Painter's Tower, shown below. "Creating this was an incredibly interesting journey for me," he recalls. "The central figure in the painting is a recurring character named Painter, who first appeared in my work in 2015. On one level, Painter provides a way for me to project myself into the mythology that I'm building. On another level, they represent something much larger than myself. This character allows me to reflect on creativity in more archetypal terms, which means there isn't always a one-to-one relationship between Painter's creative process and my own."
There are three paintings depicted within the piece, two of which are his own work from previous exhibitions. The Dream from 2017 is propped against a tree on the right, and The Origin of the Specters (Part II) from 2020 is draped over the table as a tablecloth. "The implication here is that everything I create has a parallel existence within my mythology," Adrian explains.
The abstract painting on the easel, however, has no existence beyond Painter's Tower. "Creating this painting-within-a-painting forced me to adopt an artistic methodology that wasn't my own, which was a fairly surreal experience," he says.
"Most artists have hidden aspects of their process that aren't readily apparent when looking at the finished product, and Painter is no different. So, to make this abstraction of a chess piece feel genuine, I built a shadow-box sculpture of torn and cut paper as a study. Of course, I recognise that this has become part of my process, but there's a part of me that feels as if I arrived at this solution by going outside of myself."
Artistic process and enduring narrative
So how does he create these incredible pieces? "In order to create a study for one of my paintings, I use sculptures, drawings, collages, and photographs to build an image," he explains. "This might seem like a complicated way of making an oil painting, but there's something fascinating that happens when an idea is filtered through so many different mediums. When I work this way, ideas tend to transform and grow in unexpected ways. It's a strategy for moving beyond my preconceptions in order to enter a territory of genuine discovery."
Overall, Cox's paintings are connected by a mythic narrative, set in a world that he calls the Borderlands. "For over a decade, I've cultivated this internal landscape and used my paintings to give it form," he explains. "Each image I create is an exploratory step, leading deeper into a territory that exists at the threshold of the real and the imagined, the physical world and the world of dreams.
"Although the origins of this imaginal space come from inside me, it's something that I've created to have a life of its own. I invite viewers of my work to inhabit this landscape like a shared dream. Entering this space is a creative act because, as with dreams, the symbols and stories that you will encounter there aren't limited to fixed singular meanings. Each scene that I paint is a fragment of an ever-expanding myth. But paintings can't speak, and the narrative that you piece together from these scraps of the story is uniquely your own."
Subjects and backstory
To add further context, Cox shares some of the backstory of the Borderlands and those that live there. "The protagonists of the mythology that I've created are beings known as Border Creatures," he explains. "They are both physically and spiritually an extension of the landscape that they inhabit. Their anatomy combines human traits with those of the Borderlands, and they serve as caretakers of their wilderness home.
"These strange but peaceful creatures are artists, gardeners, poets, scientists, and mystics," he adds. "When they dream, the landscape dreams with them. The Border Creatures are antagonised by the Specters, blue spirits of pure energy that are led by the Spectral King. These spirits casually burn the landscape they walk upon and are alienated from their world. The Specters perceive that which is other as a threat or as a resource reducible to its usefulness. The war between the Border Creatures and Specters is a conflict between two distinct ways of being in the world."
From this struggle, a third group known as the Spectral Witnesses were brought forth into the Borderlands. These rainbow-hued spirits were once Specters, but they were transformed when they bore witness to a mystical revelation. "This revelation was a spiritual awakening for them, but it also destroyed the worldview that had given them purpose and identity as Specters. These rainbow Witnesses now wander the Borderlands, seeking redemption."
In conclusion, he says: "The Brush and the Torch is an exploration of the nature and source of creativity. The story that unfolds in this exhibition suggests the importance of cultivating internal imaginal landscapes and depicts spiritual development as an engagement with the world rather than a departure from it. Ultimately, however, I created these paintings to symbolise something beyond the reach of discursive thought. The Borderlands exist outside of me and my intentions as an artist, so I invite you to find personal meaning in this mythic world."
The Brush and the Torch is on view at Corey Helford Gallery, 571 S. Anderson St. Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA from 3 June-8 July. Opening times are Tuesday-Saturday, 12 noon to 6pm. A launch event is open to the public and free of charge on Saturday, June 3rd, from 7-11pm in CHG's Main Gallery, alongside a four-artist show featuring mini-solos by Tarntara Sudadung, Robert Palacios, kelogsloops, and Yuka Sakuma in Gallery 3.