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Adey It Up

After a yearlong artist-in-residency program, David Adey dazzles and surprises.

The artist in Scott White Contemporary Art in La Jolla

Real artists are willing to go the distance for their craft. Take David Adey. The epic centerpiece of Hither and Yon, his January/February solo show at Scott White Contemporary, required a rendezvous with a razor.

“I shaved my entire body,” says the in-demand artist, who took a yearlong sabbatical from his professor post at Point Loma Nazarene University to complete the new body of work, which includes “Hide,” a cutting-edge take on the self-portrait.

Scott White supported Adey during the time off through his gallery’s first-ever artist-in-residency. “Scott gave me complete creative freedom,” explains Adey. “He said, ‘Make what you want and I’ll pay for it.’ It was such a luxury.”

Unconstrained by the daily grind, Adey delved even deeper into familiar subjects. Following up his hugely popular pinned-skin series—intricate collages of snippets cut from magazine photos of models and celebrities—the artist turned his attention to his own skin and body.

“Starbirth” is made from painted lips.

“Hide,” a striking large-scale diptych, features more than 75,000 tiny triangular pieces that constitute a subtly asymmetrical, Rorschach-like vision of an unfolded and flattened human form.

“I used myself mostly as a convenience,” says Adey, who spent months experimenting. “I have unrestricted access. It’s a self-portrait, but I see it more as the human form in the universal sense. Everyone has a connection to their own body.”

Adey’s fascination with unfurled surfaces dates to grad school, when he pressed down spirals of clementine peels. “It’s 3-D transitioning into 2-D,” he says. For “Hide,” the geometry-obsessed artist looked to Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes and flattened maps of the globe.
The human hide turned out to be tricky, however. Early on, Adey planned to coat his clean-shaven body in silicone, peel it off, and cut up the rubber. “That was a total disaster,” he laughs. “I almost gave up.”

Adey was set to shell out a grand on a full-body scan when he came across a surprisingly budget-friendly solution: Xbox’s 3-D Kinect camera. “I was able to cheaply build a 3-D scanner that gave me a complete, watertight 3-D model of the entire body,” says Adey. Using computer modeling, he then unfolded and flattened the complex geometry into one large piece, which was split into two panels. He created a similar abstracted image of his bust.

“This has opened up a whole new direction for my work,” says Adey, whose show includes other skin-related pieces like “Gravitational Radius,” a mandala comprised of hundreds of pinned arms and legs, and “Starbirth,” a vortex of painted lips.

A physics and popular sciences buff, Adey also designed thought-provoking new electronic pieces. “Omega Man,” made from Russian-surplus nixie tubes and timers with GPS receivers, offers a visual countdown from 1 trillion seconds, but it’s “Life Clock” that’s sure to stun.

“I hope it gets people’s attention,” says Adey, who is also the subject of an upcoming documentary that will be screened at MCASD and on KPBS. For his customized mortality countdown clock, Adey worked with an actuary to calculate his own date of death based on a wide range of data.

“There’s a sense of urgency when you watch those seconds flying by fast,” says Adey. “It’s like when you spend three hours watching trashy TV and you realize you’ll never get that time back. It’s a reminder to think about how you spend your time.”