Last year, at just 17-years-old, Adam Jonah became the youngest artist to exhibit at ILLE Arts Gallery in Amagansett. This spring the 18-year-old has returned to ILLE to present his latest project, United Imagination, as part of the Gallery’s Eleven under Thirty.
We caught up with Jonah to learn about the project, his ideas for making art more interactive and accessible, and more.
When did you first fall in love with art?
AJ: We spent every summer in the Hamptons – in different places – and I’ve been drawing and painting since a young age, but I’ve been especially inspired by being out on the East End and going for hikes and being in nature and being on the beaches and seeing all these places. It’s just a place where the creative juices get flowing. Every summer, it’s kind of part of my artistic growth and my artistic exploration has been experiencing the East End.
What does it mean to you to be the youngest artist to be featured at the gallery?
AJ: I think it just goes to show how amazing and open minded Sara DeLuca, the gallery owner is. I was always inspired by the East End. Obviously the East End is so notorious for the amazing art scene there. So this past summer I really wanted to get involved and learn how the art world works so I started going to gallery shows and talking to the owners and meeting different people and talking about the business. And I wanted to get involved and get my art into one of the shows. I packed my car, and it was kind of a vulnerable experience, and I went from gallery to gallery and brought my artwork in and showed it to them. For the most part they were all respectful and kind, but they weren’t interested and I felt rejected each time. The last stop I went to was ILLE Arts and Sara DeLuca really went out of her way to take a special interest and she ended up inviting me to put my book in her design festival and then invited me as the youngest artist to come into a gallery group show. I hope that what she has done as a leader in the community, as a business woman can be an example for other people to give young people a chance to actualize their dream. I hope what she has done can be a shining light for others.
Tell me about your United Imagination project?
AJ: This past summer I was in Amagansett and I always have been inspired by nature, but I had mostly been drawing and painting. So I was taking this walk on the beach and I saw all these birds cacawing and I walked past them and all the birds fly away except for this one bird that just stands there and opens its mouth and looks at me. It’s almost a surreal moment. For the first time I took out my camera and took a picture and brought the picture home and experimented with a new medium and drew a creature on this photograph, next to the bird. It started this conversation of my own imagination with nature. This project is actually interactive art where people can go up to the art and draw on the art and constantly have it being changed and erased. People can continue the conversation that I started with this creature.
For every installation sold to a private collector at the show, one will be donated to a charity of the buyer’s choice. Why did you feel it was important to give back to the community?
AJ: Earlier in the year my sister broke her arm and unfortunately had to spend a lot of time waiting in the children’s hospital. She turned out fine, but she came back and she kept saying how it was an incredibly daunting experience and it can be a difficult time just sitting there. So she said, “Why don’t you make some art for this place?” And that’s when it all came together with this photograph of nature with this creature where I wanted to create a new medium where people can go up to the art and draw on it. I wanted to create one for the children’s hospital and I founded this organization, United Imagination, and the slogan is “one per collector, one per community.” I have all this demand from hospitals, schools, community centers and libraries. I thought how can I connect this to the art world? And selling to private collectors, they can experience the joy of expressing themselves and experiencing these interactive art pieces, but also be contributing to the greater good of the community.
You were one of the artists who worked on Glen Cove’s First City Project house? How did you get involved with that project?
AJ: I was introduced by a friend, Joe LaPadula – I showed him my graffiti work and he invited me to participate. What was really amazing with that project and what I hope to be continuing with this project and as I go forward, is that I am on a mission to use my art and use my creativity to make a positive impact on the community. I believe that creativity and expression are a very joyous experience. I hope to change the dynamic of how art is experienced. I love painting and drawing, but now I want to allow other people to come up to the work and also enjoy the experience, but also at the same time, sometimes art can be exclusive and untouchable and inaccessible. With the “one per collector, one per community” I hope to bring it into the community as well as private art collectors. Going back to the First City Project – that was one of the first projects starting along this mission. The project was transforming this historical landmark into a graffiti museum with hundreds of artists around the world. There was a massive opening and massive turnout and it ended up being featured in the New York Times. All these people had such a positive reaction to these new perspectives of these different artists and seeing how it impacted the community has inspired my mission to continue forward with my new project.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
AJ: Another part of the interactive art is that it is really intended for all ages. There’s this Picasso quote where he says it took him four years to paint like Raphael, but it took him a lifetime to paint like a child. I guess it’s kind of tapping into this idea that expressing your inner self is this experience that’s universal and can be so opening. I intend with these interactive pieces to be open to people of all ages. At first, when I did some charity auctions and all these children were so excited and drawing all these ideas and coming up with all these amazing new creatures and elements and sometimes adults seemed a little reluctant at first. Like, “Oh, I don’t know how to draw or I don’t know how to do that.” But, part of interactive art is it’s erasable and constantly changing so people can go and draw on it without any fear and without the risk of exposing themselves. I hope that by writing creativity and spreading expression from myself and others it can make people feel happier.
Eleven under Thirty can currently be seen at ILLE Arts Gallery and will remain on view through Monday, May 1.
ILLE Arts is located at 171 Main Street in Amagansett. For more information about Eleven under Thirty, call 631-905-9894 or visit illearts.com. For more information about Adam Jonah, visit www.unitedimagination.net.