From renaissance art to satellite photos, Adam Arbeid’s stunning contemporary marble frescos draw on ancient and modern influences. Review by Stephen Iliffe.
Amidst the bath, towels and toothbrushes of a Victorian-terraced house taking part in Brighton’s 2018 Artists Open Houses, hangs Oxygene (above).
It has an elemental presence: as if a coastal shelf had newly eroded and the fallen rock split to expose multiple layers of sparkling minerals and fossils. As if these textures had been polished into a shimmering artist’s canvas, overpainted with thin washes of oceanic blues and turquoises. A backdrop for what could be a satellite photo of a coral reef or a laboratory slide of tiny amoeba.
This ambiguity is deliberate. Adam is concerned with both micro and macro perspectives on the universe: “I’m captivated by images observed through various lenses,” says Adam. “From the cosmic vistas of the Hubble telescope to photos taken through microscopes.”
Adam’s frescos seem to blend Google Earth’s topographic contours with surreal postcards from some parallel universe. Yet his visions are dreamily evocative rather than simply illustrative. As I make my way downstairs to the hall, my imagination is teased once more, by Synergy (below).
I tell Adam it makes me think of two things at once: a hippie tie-dye; or my 40th birthday flying over Iceland’s abstract moonscape of craters and lakes. “I’m excited by how viewers react differently to each picture,” he nods. “They’re open to all kinds of interpretations. Everyone has their unique take on it.”
Weeks of painstaking craft goes into each of these multi-layered works, Adam’s techniques akin to Italian renaissance fresco painters crossed with the random chance aesthetic of the 20th century surrealists.
Adam first builds up a thin veneer-like marble base and then blends in minerals, aggregates, fossils, pigments and inks. This not only gives his works like Transglobal Infusion (below) a wonderfully organic texture, it gives them a natural radiance too. “I like the idea that instead of just squeezing paint out of a tube,” says Adam, “I use colours extracted from earth pigments, glass, granite and metal ores.”
Adam’s compositions have an extraordinary poetic charge from the way he alchemises their base ingredients: “I like to encourage the various materials to run free, collide, recede, reform into new contours and configurations,” he says. “As an artist, I can choose the moment when I freeze their motion for the final artwork. I call it my aesthetic of “controlled chaos.”
Now I’m inside the living room where Juice (above) erupts upon the wall like fissures of hot steam. The colours seem to burst from the marble surface, creating a sense that you’re standing on some distant planet inhabited by floating, candy-coloured jellyfish. (Oh, and I loved the surreal juxtaposition of the cat sleeping peacefully on the radiator just below the fresco!)
Adam’s expertise in marble is enhanced by his previous experience as an interior designer and stately home restorer, working on projects such as refurbishing the nearby Brighton Royal Pavilion.
“The earliest use of employing crushed marble in this way dates back some 4000 years to the Minoan civilization,” says Adam (above). “With the fall of Rome this virtually disappeared until its rediscovery in 16th Century Florence.”
“It takes ages,” he confesses, “but I love this process of crushing, sieving and grading these ancient materials to make the ingredients for new contemporary artworks.”
Autobiographical influences also feature. Adam was inspired to create Jelly Baby (below) by a vivid dream after a ‘plane flight and scuba diving experience.
Is there a danger in this 21st century that modern art will hurtle into a virtual dystopia where image-making is reduced to mobiles, apps, instant effects? Leaving the viewers with the uneasy feeling that art has become mere software output, where the only means of engagement is clicks and likes?
In this context, it’s a delight to see Brighton’s Artists Open Houses encourage the public to physically engage with local artists. And it’s a joy to witness Adam draw on the ancient craft of marble frescos while innovating cutting-edge new artworks. Someone who is, as it were, going back to the future.
For further information about Adam Arbeid visit his official website.
The 2018 Brighton Artists Open Houses runs until the end of May.
From 23 June to 1 July 2018, Adam will exhibit the Rivermead Gallery, as part of the Chelmsford Arts Festival
From 7 July 2018, Adam will exhibit for a week at the Waterloo Square Gallery.