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Kenneth Adams

(1897 - 1966)

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Biography

Kenneth Adams became the last and youngest member of the Taos Society of Artists in 1926, one-year before the Society disbanded.  While the work of many of the Society members was rooted in the academic principles of the late nineteenth century, Adams was deeply influenced by the proto-cubist experiments of Cézanne and the prominent American modernist Andrew Dasburg.  Adams’ use of broken forms and strong, clean lines is akin to Dasburg’s interest in reducing natural shapes to geometric patterns of line and color.

Born in Topeka, Kansas, on August 6, 1897, Kenneth Adams’ interest in art was prompted by illustrations from popular magazines.  Convinced that Topeka was too provincial for him to receive serious instruction, Adams moved to Chicago after graduating from high school, where he enrolled in the Chicago Art Institute.  After a brief stint in the Army during World War I, Adams left for New York and continued his studies at the Art Student’s League.  In New York he met Maurice Stern (Mabel Dodge’s first husband), who regularly visited Taos during the summers, and who was beginning to apply cubist principles to New Mexican subject matter.  He also encountered the work of Andrew Dasburg at the progressive De Zayas Gallery (Maurius De Zayas was a member of Alfred Steiglitz’s circle of radical artists which also included Marcel Duchamp, John Marin, and Francis Picabia).  Adams soon enrolled in Dasburg’s class at the art colony Woodstock, where he was introduced to the tenets of Cézanne and cubism.  In 1921, at Dasburg’s encouragement, Adams left for Paris where he was further exposed to the work of Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, and Braque.  Shortly after his return two years later Adams moved to Santa Fe to work with his mentor Dasburg, but being unable to secure a sufficient studio he continued on to Taos.  Before leaving he obtained from Dasburg a letter of introduction to Walter Ufer, who helped the younger artist obtain a space to live and work in upon his arrival in Taos. 

At the invitation of Ufer, Adams joined the Taos Society of Artists during the summer of 1926.  Adams was impressed with the Society’s impact upon the economic growth of the region, as well as the expansion of the art colony since its formation in 1915.  Adams’ style, which was fully developed by the time he arrived in Taos, reflects less of an interest in the sentimental potential of Indian subject matter than the work of several of his Taos Society colleagues. Rather, he applied his interest in the spatial experiments of Cézanne and Picasso’s early work to Taos subjects with results that were uniquely his own.  Adams’ use of clean, simple lines and geometric space effects a degree of monumentality consistent with Mexican Muralists Jose Orzoco and Diego Rivera, whose work Adams most likely knew through photographs.  When applied to the Pueblo Indian subjects, Adams’ style lends his figures a forceful presence, reflective of his own belief in the inherent dignity of man. 

Although the final meeting of the Taos Society in 1927 was never officially recorded, Adams later wrote in the New Mexican Quarterly: “. . . a quorum of [Taos Society] members met at the home of Bert G. Phillips one night in March, 1927, and by a unanimous vote ended the existence of the Taos Society of Artists.”