Canadian Visual Artists: Micah Adams

Micah Adams is a sculptor, jeweller and collector of curiosities. Originally from Nova Scotia, he studied fine arts in Montreal and Halifax, and spent several years in Toronto as a resident artist at the Harbourfront Centre.

She Doesn't Tell Anyone...  About the Headaches miniature monument from My Future Wife series by Micah Adams

She Doesn’t Tell Anyone… About the Headaches miniature monument from My Future Wife series

Your miniature sculptures often take familiar things out of their usual context and present them as objects of art. You have works that consist of beavers cut out of Canadian nickels and maple leaves out of the pennies, flowers constructed out of matches and jewellery put together from earring backs. Is revealing the extraordinary potential of ordinary things an important aspect of making art to you? Do you find that your work inspires those who see it to look at objects they usually take for granted in a new light?

I like when I see an object or a material and realize something about it I hadn’t noticed before, much of my work is about that moment. All art has the capacity to change perspectives on things, both big things and small things. If others after viewing some of my work, look at objects they usually take for granted more closely, I would think the artwork was successful at communicating my observations.

Ring made out of gold earring backs by Micah Adams

Ring made out of gold earring backs

Pile of Dead Leaves by Micah Adams

Pile of Dead Leaves

I like to use familiar or everyday items for a few reasons – sometimes it’s an item’s material qualities that I like or want to use in an unconventional way. I like finding new uses for things. For example I discovered that masking tape is really good for forming 3-d shapes by folding small pieces over one another to create a form. This could resemble the way potters handcoil vessels.

One Roll of Masking Tape sculpture by Micah Adams

One Roll of Masking Tape

Often I see or use something in my day-to-day life and realize that it looks like something else. I want to take advantage of these visual similes in an artwork. The consequence of using familiar objects is that they are relatable for people and I like art that is accessible.

When I’m conceiving an idea for a project, it’s based around what I find or have access to. I don’t just want to invent something new when there’s so many material objects out there where the ideal thing could already exist. It’s just waiting to be mixed and matched with other things. My job is to find or wait for the right idea to come up and match with the perfect found object. For example, with some of my cast miniature monuments, the bottle caps worked perfectly as monument bases. This was one of the starting points for that work.

Hands & Teeth & Antlers by Micah Adams

Hands & Teeth & Antlers

The size of your works also seems to encourage looking at familiar things in a different way – as with your miniature monuments series, or the Hands & Teeth & Antlers sculptures, and My Own Personal Olympic Stadium. What first attracted you to working on such a small scale? Were the ideas you wanted to communicate through your art the decisive factor behind you choosing to make miniatures, or did the love of working on a small scale come first?

This question I’m not sure of. It happened naturally as far as I’m concerned. People call it miniature or little but to me that’s just what happens, and it turns out that is unconventionally small. The answer is probably both at the same time. When I grew up I played a lot with Lego and later plastic models. Lots of people used Lego when they were younger and grew out of it. I think I’m drawn to small things and making small art but also some of the ideas or observations I wanted to communicate were little in scale.

My Own Personal Olympic Stadium by Micah Adams

My Own Personal Olympic Stadium

For example the Olympic stadium piece was based on an observation I made, how hair when pulled makes the skin around it look like a little tent. Then I thought of the connection to the stadium and how it looked the same.

With the teeth and hands, I thought there was a visual connection with roots in general and hands as tools for gripping things. Those are small things so the ideas dictated the scale of the work. That said, I could make the hands and teeth idea at hand size. On the other hand, if the stadium could be done at the life size, the idea is ridiculous. So sometimes it seems the work has to be small in order to work.

Micah Adams - Miscellaneous displayI saw your work at the TOAE (Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition) last summer, where you had a sort of cabinet of curiosities set-up filled with your miniature sculptures. There were small drawers and shadow box-like displays for this profusion of tiny artworks, and together the effect was almost fractal – the closer you looked the finer and finer details were there to be found and marvel at. This combined effect is like a separate artwork in itself, and it seems to reveal something different than the sculptures themselves do.  What do you think is gained and what is lost when one of your sculptures is viewed on its own versus when they are seen all together like this?

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Canadian Visual Artists: Ele Willoughby (aka minouette)

Ele Willoughby (aka minouette) is a marine geophysicist and printmaker from Toronto, whose linocuts and woodblock prints are inspired by science and the natural world. Clicking on any image in this post will take you to the artwork’s listing in the Minouette Etsy shop, where they can be viewed in greater detail.

Lise Meitner and Nuclear Fission linocut from minouette's History of Physics series

Lise Meitner and Nuclear Fission linocut from minouette’s History of Physics series

It seems you have achieved an uncanny synergy of science and art in your life – is the relationship fully symbiotic or do you ever find these two forces in conflict?  

For me, the intersection of art and science is a really fertile source of inspiration – I even write a blog about it called magpie&whiskeyjack. I think that most people have been misled that art and science are very different – that science is constrained whereas art is free and creative. In truth, science is a very creative activity. Scientists are always problem-solving and inventing new things: tools, techniques, or stories about how things might work (also called hypothesis making). Art can also be constrained – there are often specific procedures which must be followed when working in certain artistic media that are very much like executing an experiment.

A Tower of Giraffes linocut illustrates the collective noun for a group of giraffes

A Tower of Giraffes linocut illustrates the collective noun for a group of giraffes

I’ve used artistic skills as a scientist, both when it comes to designing tools and to scientific visualizations and communications. Building a prototype geophysical imaging device is not unlike building a sculpture. You spend a lot of time in hardware stores thinking about whether things can be adapted to your purpose, which is the sort of behaviour artists will recognize.

I’ve also used a lot of my scientific skills and knowledge in my art (incorporating electronics or thermochromic inks and using the history of science as subject matter). So, I would say that for me the relationship between art and science is symbiotic.

However, these two interests, or perhaps hemispheres of my brain, do occasionally conflict. When I’ve had a difficult day in the lab, you’ll find sketches in my lab book. I find scientific colleagues don’t think about colour in design the way I do – occasionally I’ve found a battle on my hands when arguing for certain scientific visualizations.

Bacteria surrounding Louis Pasteur in this portrait are printed in thermochromic ink and disappear when heated - just like in pasteurization!

Bacteria surrounding Louis Pasteur in this portrait are printed in thermochromic ink and disappear when heated – just like in pasteurization!

As an artist, I find I can really enjoy the work of other artists who use science as inspiration, but I personally could never use, say, a diagram or some sort of scientific apparatus for strictly aesthetic reasons – they aren’t just decoration. So, in that sense, the education does influence the way I think, and hence the art I create.

As a scientist, you build machines for underwater imagery and you also get to use them in marine expeditions. What was your most memorable, terrifying or awesome experience while at sea and did you have to wait till getting back home to make art inspired by it?

Sailing Ship II - block print with mixed papers by minouette

Sailing Ship II – block print with mixed papers

Goodness, I do have some stories. It would be hard to choose which one to tell! I’ll tell you about one experience which was difficult, then amazing, and which did inspire new art.

Several years ago, I was working offshore Vancouver Island on a Canadian Coast Guard vessel with a team of university researchers. I had been working on a method which allows me to measure the stiffness of seafloor sediments by lowering an instrument to the ocean bottom. We decided that it would be great to get a really long dataset, but that we couldn’t stay put; rather than lowering the instrument to the bottom and holding station for hours, we could let it fall to the bottom and retrieve it later.

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