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Adam Erlbaum


"I found that my painting practice ‘ate’ ideas from math and writing, just as Pollock’s Full Fathom Five engulfed keys, coins, and any bits of metal he tossed into it."

Adam Erlbaum received a BA in Mathematics from The Colorado College in 2002.  He has attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the University of the Arts, and the MFA program at the Vermont College of the Fine Arts. Erlbaum has exhibited in Philadelphia, Aspen, South Carolina, and St. Louis. He paints at The Mill Studios in Philadelphia.

Idea to Inch Series

Adam Erlbaum jokes that the next best thing to keeping his artwork in the bank is putting it in his wallet. Accordingly, he cuts individual pages out of his notebook, folds them and carries them around in his hip pocket. Erlbaum then flattens the sketches on his painting table, where they are erased, reworked, and muddied by graphite dust. 

He enlarges these sketches onto canvas with a pencil and ruler. Tight one-eighth-inch borders and sharp forty-five-degree angles demand close work with these tools. Erlbaum likens his pencil and ruler to the mantra and gazing point from his meditation. “Constraints relax me,” he says.


Erlbaum's paint handling is also precise. He paints a given line from top to bottom, rotates the canvas one hundred and eighty degrees, and paints the line from (new) top to bottom. Erlbaum repeats this multiple times. His hand gains confidence as the line collects paint and becomes raised. 

Erlbaum finishes the two-and-a-half-inch deep sides of each canvas in white acrylic paint. This confirms that the painting is a physical thing, that idea is now inch. The series title, Idea to Inch, refers to the scale of a map where ideas, intangible notions, are shown in terms of inches, common units of measurement. 

Journal Series

Adam Erlbaum jokes that his Journal series is a “Topological Hooked on Phonics.” Accordingly, his 5-by-6.25-inch sketches begin with word fragments or short words. Erlbaum works on a 30-unit-high by 24-unit-wide grid. On canvas, this most easily translates to an eight-wide by ten-high grid of 3-inch squares. Erlbaum prepares canvases the day before with a heavy, even wash of color. He then divides the canvas into equal quadrants and grids out each one separately. This practice reduces bowing when drawing lines on a stretched canvas with a ruler. Erlbaum programs his brush-hand through repetition, learning sequences of marks. Finally, he performs these sequences in each finished work.   

The series title, “Journal”, comes from a writing critique Erlbaum received. He was told he had written, “a journal not a memoir.” Erlbaum proceeded to write a journal, on canvas, to be viewed as a painting. In his previous “Letter” series, he employed letters and even words. Despite this, Erlbaum still had the sense that he was making “normal paintings.” The high color and high energy of the Letter series did not distract from the fact that the letters and words were strictly dependent pictorial elements. The role of the letters and words is what, for Erlbaum, defines the Journal series. In the Journal series, the words and letters read independently, while cooperating pictorially.



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