Norman Adams studied at Harrow School of Art from 1940 to 1946 and subsequently at the Royal College of Art from 1948 to 1951. He was Head of Painting at Manchester College of Art from 1962 to 1970, visiting tutor at Leeds University from 1973 to 1976 and Professor of Painting at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 1981 to 1986. In 1986 he was elected Keeper of the Royal Academy in 1986, and upon retiring from this position after nine years, was appointed the Academy's Professor of Painting Emeritus in 1995.
His first solo exhibition was held in 1952 at Gimpel Fils, London with subsequent regular shows held at Roland, Browse and Delbanco.
In 1955 Norman and his wife Anna bought a house in Horton in Ribblesdale where they spent much of the next fifty years together. In 1962 they paid their first regular visit to the west coast of Scotland, fascinated by the islands and the ever changing light.
In 1953 he designed the stage set and costumes for 'A Mirror of Witches' produced by the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, and again for the Sadler's Wells production of Saudades in 1955. Commissions have played a large part in Adams's career, his first being the painting of a mural for Broad Lane Comprehensive School, Coventry in 1954. In 1967 he was commissioned by the Oxford University Press to illustrate parts of the Old Testament. He went on to paint murals for St Anselm's Church, Kennington, London in 1971 and to make 14 ceramic panels of the Stations of the Cross for the Roman Catholic Church at Coffee Hall in Milton Keynes in 1975. In 1994 Adams received a commission for the Fourteen Stations of the Cross, for St Mary's Church, Mulberry Street, Manchester. These were exhibited at the Sackler Galleries, Royal Academy, prior to installation.
A retrospective of the artist's work was held in the Diploma Galleries, Royal Academy in 1988.
Norman Adams was elected Royal Academician in 1972 (ARA 1967) and Honorary Member of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1987.
The artist is survived by his wife Anna and sons Benjamin and Jacob.
2005 - Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University
2001 - Beaux Arts Gallery, London
2001 - North House Gallery, Manningtree, Essex
2000 - Linton Court Gallery, Settle, North Yorkshire
1998 - Beaux Arts Gallery, London
1997 - Beaux Arts Gallery, Bath
1996 - Beaux Arts Gallery, London
1995 - Royal Academy of Arts (Sackler Galleries)
1994 - Dean Clough, Halifax, Yorkshire
1992/3 - Christopher Hull Gallery, London
1992/3 - Bruton Street Gallery, London
Work in Public Collections
Abbot Hall, Kendal, Aberdeen City Art Gallery, Carlisle City Art Gallery, Cartwright Hall, Bradford, Edinburgh Museum of Modern Art, Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Hatton Gallery Mercer Gallery Harrogate, Newcastle, Leeds City Art Gallery, Leeds University, Southampton City Art Gallery, St Martins College, Lancaster, Tate Gallery London, Wakefield City Art Gallery.
"Norman Adams who died in March 2005, at the age of 78, was one of the most significant artists this country has produced over the last half-century. A pictorial and profoundly visionary Romantic thinker in the direct line of Blake and Palmer, Stanley Spencer and Paul Nash, he forged a visual language of intense power and originality, entirely contemporary in character. That he has not achieved wider public recognition for his work is quite extraordinary though the exhibitions which are being planned by 108 Fine Art, working with the artist’s estate, for later this year and beyond, and leading up to a touring retrospective for 2008/9, look certain to bring his work to the attention of a much wider group of museum curators and collectors over the next few years.
Central to his achievement is the boldness of his thinking on what his art should be about. A youthful, and lasting enthusiasm for Blake, membership of anarchist groups and imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs as a conscientious objector in 1947, provide some powerful clues to the nature and strength of his political views which were, for him, always indissolubly linked with his painting. “I grew up beginning to associate art and religion and political thinking as one great big thing that had to be dealt with as a whole” he once wrote and it is this natural and intuitive linking of political and moral concerns with the sacred which has always given such a sharp edge of contemporaneity to the eternal human values to be found in all of his work. “Probably the greatest mystery of all is Man” he once observed of himself, “and I think that my art is about him, even if it doesn't depict him, or seem figurative…”, words that bring together in sharp focus all the apparently diverse strands of landscape and still-life, pagan and Christian themes, transcriptions of the Old Masters and re-workings of van Gogh that make up his apparently broad-ranging subject matter.
Yet for all the significance his work places on subject matter it was always Adams’ intuitive feeling for the forms to match them to match them which his themes so intensely to life. Key to this was, first, his close and incessant observation of Nature and, second, his feeling for the emotional impact of colour. “I know of only one way to achieve form – to discover it in nature and one discovers it by looking” –“Painting is the only art form which has significant colour and with colour I try to reach intangible things” were the words he used to describe the process and whether it is the misty greens and dense purples of his 70s Hebridean landscapes, the fiery reds and golds of his 80s Provencal subjects or the exhilarating kaleidoscopes of colour of his later sacred themes, you invariably find echoes of Adams’ own testimony: “The artist should be able to hold his head up in the presence of great priests and be able to say ‘I too have tried to make sense, to be helpful, to be necessary.’”
Nicholas Usherwood, April 2006