Spotlight: Def Jam Recordings Legend Cey Adams Riffs on Hip Hop and Pop Art Aesthetics in a New Austin Gallery Show

The pioneering visual artist's solo show opens this weekend with Austin-based gallery West Chelsea Contemporary.

Cey Adams, POP (2023). Courtesy of West Chelsea Contemporary, Austin.

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What You Need to Know: Opening this Friday, October 20, 2023, West Chelsea Contemporary in Austin will present a solo show of new work by Cey Adams, “Combinations.” On view through November 19, the exhibition will feature the New York-based artist’s largest body of work to date and marks the first time the sweeping gallery space (of more than 7,500 square feet) will be dedicated to a single artist. A synthesis of Adams’s practice in graffiti, street art, graphic design, painting, and collage, “Combinations” reflects his distinct style of visual storytelling. Speaking of the show, Adams said, “‘Combinations’ revisits early ideas and various styles spanning over 40 years of my art-making career. This current body of work reexamines societal and social structures in America that divide us. The primary goal of my art is to be a bridge that brings people closer together. Over the years, I’ve seen how graffiti, street art, and hip-hop have created a unified movement with lasting impact on popular culture.” Engaging with prevalent themes—from pop culture to race, gender, and community issues—Adams illustrates his unique process of collapsing iconographic cultural imagery and recreating it to reflect ideas around unity and collective identity.

Cey Adams. Courtesy of West Chelsea Contemporary, Austin.

Why We Like It: Cey Adams rose to international recognition as the founding creative director of Def Jam Recordings, where his vision was an influential force in the crafting of hip-hop’s visual language and character. His album cover and logo designs helped codify the brand identity of such music icons as Mary J. Blige, Run DMC, The Notorious B.I.G., and the Beastie Boys. His long and storied career in the field is recognizable in his signature style, but in the expansive solo with West Chelsea Contemporary is it is expanded upon exponentially through the use of a wide variety of mediums and a broadened landscape of recognizable symbols and motifs. The influence of 1960s Pop art, the tradition of sign painting, as well as comic books, and hip-hop come together to create a body of work that speaks across generations and genres. Followers of Adams’s career will be able to see new works from his “Trusted Brands” series, derived from logos of the 1960s and ’70s, as well as a new “LOVE” series created on Levi’s denim—an homage to the brand with which the artist has a long-standing relationship and in honor of the 150th anniversary of the 501 cut jean.

According to the Gallery: “We are thrilled to present Cey Adams’s show ‘Combinations.’ Cey is widely known for graffiti, street art, and his work with hip-hop artists on Def Jam Recordings. He seamlessly incorporates these elements into his fine art practice, and he is a master of storytelling through collage. We are excited to celebrate Cey’s illustrious 40-year career with his first solo exhibition in Austin and to commemorate hip-hop’s 50th anniversary.”—Gary Seals, CEO of West Chelsea Contemporary

See featured works from the show below.

Cey Adams, Morning Breath Crazy Head (2023). Courtesy of West Chelsea Contemporary, Austin.

Cey Adams, 150 Denim (2023). Courtesy of West Chelsea Contemporary, Austin.

Cey Adams, Arm & Hammer (2023). Courtesy of West Chelsea Contemporary, Austin.

Cey Adams, Barbie (2023). Courtesy of West Chelsea Contemporary, Austin.

Cey Adams, Cey Denim (2023). Courtesy of West Chelsea Contemporary, Austin.

Cey Adams: Combinations” is on view at West Chelsea Contemporary, Austin, October 20–November 19, 2023.


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