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Bamboo Shadows

Andrew Hall meets the face behind the brush that is Neal Adams. Portrait: Lucky 8.

NEAL Adams’ slightly jowly face is jolly – perpetually on the verge of a laugh or, at least, a big old grin.

He’s a Londoner through and through, hailing from near Wimbledon. His quasi-Cockney accent crackles as he talks about how he moved from England to Bali, got married to the lovely Ayu, and had two kids, James and Ethan.

Neal’s a dab hand with an artist’s brush.

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His journey from Old Blighty to Bali, and on to Ubud is reminiscent of many. An initial foray in the guise of a holiday. Then another. And another. And finally…
“Bugger it, I’m moving.”

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He felt pulled by the creativity of Bali’s people. The hustle and bustle of life on the streets. The visual domain. He reckoned he could put his creative juices into overdrive in bucolic surrounds that played in his head. Played with his head.

As a youngster, Neal felt drawn to the world of painting and haunted London’s museums of art at every opportunity. He was

especially inspired by Turner’s ethereal landscapes. At 17 he was selling to tourists in the city’s art markets. Made a few squid, he did.

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He joined the printing industry at an early age – did all the right things; even bought a house. Until the lure of Bali became too alluring to resist. He sold up, packed everything he had left in one suitcase and hopped on a plane. That was 2003.

Neal took some time to blot Bali. To assimilate its quirks and quandaries. He spent a lot of time checking out nature. He looked at trees in the context of spiritual entity.

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“Trees are not just trees,” he says, “bamboo isn’t just bamboo.”

“They are inherent parts of the psyche. Parts that I am driven to interpret in their purest form and to try to draw out in the nature of their abstractions.”

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Neal spent a couple of years developing a style reminiscent of Gustav Klimpt – using metallic leaf (gold and silver) to accent light and movement. But Neal took the process several steps further. As he puts it:

“The leaf provides the light in my paintings – the layering acts to furnish a depth that cannot really be achieved in any other way. It is also a metaphor for the precious places our minds turn to when we think of what exists around us.”

I have a photograph of a woman I once knew sitting in front of one of Neal’s landscapes. She looks, for all the world, to be placed in a magical wood that has a wonderful perspective. An early morning scene that glitters and twinkles with an impish humour.

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It brings to mind the words of a favourite song:

Will you stay with me, will you be my love,
Among the fields of barley – which I always think of as Bali,
And you can tell the sun in his jealous sky,
When we walked in fields of gold…

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Neal Adams, however, gets frustrated with what he sees as an incessant sales-orientation of “art”. It’s not something that just exists to be sold, he says. It is a vitally important part of the way we – that is, all of us – relate to the world around us.

“From the earliest cave paintings to the masterpieces of  da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and others, it’s something that people have needed to do. To say that I was here. Kind of a grand grafitto.

“In a way it’s no different from making bread, really. We all need to eat. We find our innate humanity in the various forms of art we see around us on a daily basis: architecture, sculpture, painting. It’s a way of expression that can draw us closer to each other. At the very least it gives us something to talk about.”

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If you get into a discussion about what his art means to Neal, be prepared to spend many hours. And know your stuff. He does. He’s a keen student of art history. He’s a knowledgeable observer of current trends and tendencies.

One of Neal’s paintings of a teak tree takes pride-of-place in my house. A piece I look at every day. A piece that makes my place sing. A piece that brings an ambience I couldn’t have found anywhere else. I like it a lot.

So check out what this talented young man can do. You’ll be impressed too.