Soul Mission: Portrait Artist Abstracts Her Subjects

Laurie Yeates Adams learned to blur the lines that constituted a portrait. Photo by Tim Robison

Thirty years ago, Hendersonville artist Laurie Yeates Adams had threaded her way through multiple professions — as a bakery chef, a special-events manager, a marketing professional — when she realized something was missing. “I had always felt a yearning creatively, but I couldn’t find the right avenue to express it,” Adams recalled recently. “It took into my twenties before I recognized a passion for art. And it was a slow time developing.”

Over the past three decades, Adams has made up for lost time with an impressive body of work ranging from softly rendered portraits in oil, bolder work in encaustic, abstracts in muted grays and browns, and three-dimensional work in clay. “I’ve found it satisfying working between different mediums,” says Adams. “It’s opened up new ways of thinking and seeing which refreshes me and, hopefully, my work.”

The turning point in her peripatetic employment history and in the development of her creative life emerged in the 1980s, when Adams started attending life-drawing classes in Southern California, where she grew up. It was the beginning of her attraction to capturing the beauty of the human figure, initially in pencil but soon followed by work in charcoal, pastels, and oil. When her day job took her to Colorado in the mid-’90s, she was introduced to the widely respected Denver portraitist Ron Hicks, whose work draws on the Old Masters, particularly Rembrandt, in his observations of contemporary life.

“He taught me the gift of seeing,” Adams says about her four years of study with Hicks. Under his tutelage, she developed her trademark palette of velvety oils in softened colors, her portrait subjects observed with a compassionate sensitivity reminiscent of Sargent, whom she cites as one of her artistic heroes, along with contemporary artists such as Jim Dine, Tibor Nagy, and Nathan Oliveira. “I discovered the softness of my palette through many years of painting,” Adams says. “I continue to search for ways to express my subject, at its core, as best I can.”

Her abstractions came later, an exploration of the essence of a subject shorn of more outward characteristics. “I’ve had the desire to abstract the figure, losing the surroundings, and also to experiment with ways I can communicate the figure as simply as possible,” she explains. “Abstracting the figure led me into abstracting shapes, line, and playing with textures.” The result is a series of elongated forms rendered in simple blacks, grays, and browns, floating in a restrained white field as though emerging from the mist. They are among the most evocative of Adams’ canvases, shorn of any referential detail and focusing the viewer’s attention on pure line and texture. “I love the richness this palette affords me,” Adams says, “and I love the drama between black and white, and what I can achieve in between.”

Given the large percentage of her work dedicated to traditional portraiture, it’s surprising to learn that Laurie rarely works on commission but prefers to find her own subjects. “I’ve done commissions in the past, but it just doesn’t suit me well,” she says. She chooses her subjects intuitively from how she relates to a particular person, or the presence of something instinctively compelling to her eye, and builds each piece from the darker end of her palette, working through midtones toward the lighter shades as the portrait takes shape. ”My quest is to somehow express the unique beauty that I see in the figure through my work.”

Adams works from a home studio in the house she and her husband bought a year ago in Hendersonville, moving from Georgia with their three English bulldogs to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. The studio is large enough to encompass distinct areas created for work in media as varied as her choice of subjects, ranging from children and animals to jazz musicians and nude studies — a remarkable oeuvre that has been written about in American Art Collector and has taken top prizes in juried shows throughout the Southeast.

“Essentially, I’m looking for the insides of my subjects,” says Adams. “If I’m able to reveal an inward significance, then I feel I’ve succeeded in my effort.”

Laurie Yeates Adams’ work can be seen locally at Art Mob Studios & Marketplace (124 4th Avenue East) in Hendersonville. 828-693-4545. (Her paintings are also on view at Woolworth Walk in Asheville. She is represented regionally by Lagerquist Gallery in Atlanta and Ellis-Nicholson in Charleston.),

1 Comment

  • Old friend from Boston says:

    I love her work.

    To me, she captures the soul of the subject, and at the same time reveals a piece of her own soul to the viewer. A very unique experience to behold. Her pictures speak, tell stories and have an intimate quality, which is deep, magical and moving.

    One feels as thought she offering the viewer an opportunity to not only look upon beautiful images but at the same time experience the beautiful nature of the artist and her interpretation of life moments, feeling and the unspoken explanations of time.

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