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Artist John M. Adams Discusses Schlesinger Center’s First Wall Drawing

John M. Adams
John M. Adams discusses his creative process during an art talk and demonstration at the Schlesinger Center.
Artist John M. Adams demonstrates
Artist John M. Adams demonstrates how he used powdered graphite to create the site-specific wall drawing Terminal Flux in the atrium of the Schlesinger Center.

More than 20 students, faculty and community members gathered in the Forum Gallery of the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center at the Alexandria Campus on April 19 for a discussion and demonstration led by local artist John M. Adams.

Adams – who created and executed the Schlesinger Center’s very first wall drawing Terminal Flux – discussed his past art experience and education as well as the long and tedious process of creating a graphite wall drawing. During his discussion, Adams said he took an interest in art in high school and started drawing actual figures. However, his interests started to change and he began to focus more on the process.

“I started to care more about my thoughts when it came to art and the whole creative process,” Adams said. “I was thinking about how to translate that process into art. This art piece engages the viewer to interact with it and its environment. You have to move around it to experience it and even go to the second floor to see a different aspect of it, so it never allows the viewer to see all of it at once.”

Adams explained that he started by taking photos of the atrium of the Schlesinger Center and then sketching out what he wanted to create on the walls. This process took a lot of time, and by the time he was scheduled to begin, his two week deadline had been curtailed to five days. Adams said there are a number of difficulties working on a large art piece. Creating Terminal Flux, his largest site-specific graphite wall drawing to date, proved to be just as challenging as his previous wall drawings.

“This is my largest drawing in terms of length and width, and I had five days to complete it,” Adams said. “Creating it, I had to keep track of everything because it’s always a huge task to work with these larger projects.”

During the discussion and Q&A, a student mentioned artist Andy Goldsworthy, and Adams said Goldsworthy was a huge influence on some of his work. Using powdered graphite as a creative tool for his wall drawings, however, is something he had to figure out on his own.

“Repetition and rhythm are really important in my work. But using powdered graphite in this way is something that came out of experimentation with the material,” Adams explained.

Terminal Flux is 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide and is drawn directly on the walls of the atrium in the Schlesinger Center lobby. Previously, Adams has created site-specific wall drawings for the McLean Project for the Arts and Reston Arts Center.

Exhibition Director Mary Welch Higgins was taken by his previous drawings and his paintings. In September 2016, she offered Adams the opportunity to show his unique paintings for his series Current Interrupted. She explained that she has a lot of respect for Adams and his work and was very eager to have him create something specifically for the Schlesinger Center.

“The unexpected experience for me was watching how the work changes on the wall during the day as the light and shadows change,” Higgins said. “Because of this, Terminal Flux, in a way, becomes a sculptural piece as well as a flat drawing on the wall.”

Art Professor Stacy Slaten was taken by Adams’ drawing and wrote the grant proposal to make the event possible. Slaten said it was important to provide her students with an opportunity to speak with a working artist.

“I wanted the students to meet and talk to a professional in the field that uses drawing in surprising and unique ways. John uses the nontraditional surface of walls than the traditional paper for drawing on a monumental scale. Students can take inspiration from a working artist and learn through his process how he makes his living as an artist,” Slaten said. “I felt students needed to hear of his methods directly from the source. Through his practice, students can take heart that you can actually devote your life to art as a person and professional.”

Student Life at the Alexandria Campus sponsored the discussion and demonstration session. Slaten and Higgins hope to continue to collaborate and bring more opportunities for students to interact with working artists throughout the academic year.


Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.