MAYBE IT WAS IN THE BASEMENT, looking through a ground-level window out onto his grandparents’ yard swallowed by the untended, encroaching flora—or maybe it was earlier. Maybe it was seeing Bob Ross beamed into his home and watching as he swirled dollops of paint into whorls and made them into bushes. Maybe it was any number of things—influences during the formal education Steve Adair got as a Bachelor of Fine Arts student at Arkansas State University; the informal education of time spent exploring buildings slowly reclaimed by nature. But that’s really not what matters. What matters is that one day, he took an old painting and put it on the platform of a table saw. He turned on the saw, and pieces of canvas and color fell to the floor of his grandparents’ garage, and the thing that emerged was … a leaf.
In the past three years, some things have changed, and others have remained the same. While they’re still leaves, and they’re still collected and fixed as installations on broad white walls, there’s something in the leaves’ evolution that has altered their course. They’re no longer just something done of the moment, drawn largely from impulse and the materials at hand. Instead of cutting old paintings into pieces, he’s moved on to painting them individually and specifically for the shows. And on a broader scale, there now seems to be more direction in terms of the ways the leaves are placed. Whereas his early projects seemed to be almost amorphous, shapes without movement or momentum, his more recent work, such as the current installation at the Arts Center of the Ozarks in Springdale, recalls swarms and vortexes you’d find in nature, in the movement of birds and fish.
And to consider where the work has been and what it’s become, it seems fair to say there’s been a shift. But it’s all happened organically—it’s all still natural.