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Jim Adams: The Irretrievable Moment

Discover this retrospective exhibit by a Surrey artist covering 50 years of painting and sculpture.

A well-known and well-loved Surrey-based artist is launching the biggest exhibition of his career. Explore five decades’ worth of Jim Adams' artmaking in Jim Adams: The Irretrievable Moment. His paintings often combine historical events with speculative futures, real people in imagined situations, and mythological people in contemporary scenarios.

A strong sense of narrative tension infuses Adams’s landscapes and portraits. A Japanese bride is on her way to get married less than a minute after the first atomic bomb is dropped. A contrail is faintly visible in the sky overhead. Other paintings envision a peaceful last evening before a meteor streaks across the sky. Locals enjoy their drinks in a White Rock Starbucks as the blue and red lights of a patrol car are reflected in the window. Adams says, “I’m always looking for the irretrievable moment where you’re committed to the action but the action hasn’t actually happened yet.”

In addition to these dramatic and, in some cases, more ominous works, Adams also does humorous paintings. His UFO fragment series inserts 3D objects like pencils, photographic negatives, and newspaper clippings into idyllic suburban landscapes.

Drawing from influences as diverse as late twentieth-century comics and science fiction to European Romantic landscape painting, classical myth, and African-American history, Adams’s art probes a number of themes including the hidden dramas of suburbia, the encroachment of military culture on everyday life, and the effects of technology and consumerism on young male identity.

In Adams’ art, moments from the past can’t be reclaimed, only partially glimpsed and transformed into something new in the realization of the artwork.

Jim Adams: The Irretrievable Moment is a two-part retrospective exhibition developed with The Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford. The exhibition brings together an unprecedented selection of the artist’s work from over five decades of artmaking, including many never-before seen artworks. The Reach Gallery Museum will focus on Adam’s combined use of mythology, youth culture, and science fiction from the last two decades of his practice. It will run in Abbotsford from May 25 to September 3.

Exhibition Catalogue

To learn more about Jim Adams and his work, read our companion publication, which includes essays by co-curators Jordan Strom and Laura Schneider and by renowned media artist Sylvia Grace Borda. There is also an interview with the artist and additional texts and images.

Physical copies of this catalogue are also available to order from Surrey Art Gallery. Please email us at or phone us at 604-501-5566 to inquire about availability.

About the Artist

Jim Adams was born in Philadelphia in 1943 and earned his bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Temple University and his master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. At twenty-four, he moved to California and taught printmaking at California State University in Long Beach and drawing at the Laguna Beach School of Art and Design.

He then moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where he took up a position in the Fine Arts Department of the newly created Douglas College in 1970 and stayed with the department when it became part of what is now Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He remained there until his retirement in 2000.

For the past forty years, Adams has been an advocate for the visual arts—he chaired the province’s last Festival of the Arts and served as a member and chair of Surrey’s Public Art Advisory Committee. In 2008, he was awarded Surrey’s Civic Treasure status for outstanding lifetime achievement.

Curators: Jordan Strom and Laura Schneider
Origin of Exhibition: Surrey Art Gallery and The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford

Image credits from top to bottom: Jim Adams, Nighthawks (Homage to Hopper) (1995), acrylic on canvas, 120 cm x 85 cm. Photo by Scott Massey.
Jim Adams, 08:15:40 08/06/45 (The Bride)(1987), acrylic on canvas, 61 cm x 122 cm. Photo by Scott Massey.
Jim Adams, Centurion Self-Portrait (1984), acrylic on canvas, 189 cm x 127 cm. Photo by Scott Massey.