Web extra: Q&A with artist and musician Adam Elliott

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From the April 3, 2014 edition

Adam Elliott spent years drumming for the band Times New Viking. While touring and playing music, he still found time to make collages — an endeavor that has been with him since elementary school. This month his art is featured in a pair of solo exhibits in the Short North, one at The Oak Room in DeepWood and one at Impero. Elliott took some time to talk art — visually, musically and everyday-life speaking.

What are you up to now, artistically?

I am constantly trying to make something, be it a flyer or album art or fried chicken. The long winter was punishing yet refreshing. I recently got married, which has been inspiring. I play drums with [Columbus band] Connections and that helps me get some anxiety out. I also just restarted the “X-Files,” which is something to look forward to. Aesthetics are life, the rest is just details. My life is full of Xeroxed papers and flowers right now.

Why is your show called "college ruled!"?

There are sort of two meanings to that title. The obvious one is that each collage was printed on college-ruled paper. I have to sneak the paper into Kinkos and pray it doesn’t keep getting jammed. I like the concept of "high" art being distributed on the cheapest materials available. The title is also referencing my thoughts on art school. It’s like, "college ruled!" I spent four years creating and absorbing so much fascinating and weird things at CCAD. I met my band mates there and we just started playing music and I got into gang mentality toward art. This is my first show since graduating that doesn’t involve music or anyone else. I am revisiting a lot of methods and imagery I was using a while ago with well-traveled eyes now. It’s exciting to me. 

How would you describe your artwork that is in the show opening at The Oak Room this weekend?

The Oak Room show is a collection of collages from my sketch book. I have been constantly adding and deleting and building these images for about five years. They are color Xeroxes with marker and other tools available on the Kinkos table. I consider them drawings in the same way Kurt Schwitters considered his collage work drawings. I’m using found imagery and color to create something new. Color and texture create the new story. The limitations help create infinite possibilities. The show at Impero [for the Short North coffee shop’s April show of work by local rock and concert poster artists] consists of 10 flyers I had made for local rock shows. For this show, I took out all band names and concert venues to just let the art come through. They are similar-looking shows, some pieces even sharing images, yet hold different weight and concepts of value. 

Where or how do you find your images?

I collect all printed paper. It’s my one weird obsession. I have no idea where my passport is right now, but I do know where a corner scrap from a Hare Krishna pamphlet I got 10 years ago is in a box full of paper. I consider it a way to cut down my carbon footprint. I use everything from Dio liner notes to the Columbus Alive. There are always a lot of those! Offset printing is magic!

What goes through your mind as you are putting together a piece? What do you consider?

I try to think of absolutely nothing. The images I use are already visually powerful most of the time so I see the work in shapes and colors. It is the act of creating that frees me up. It is similar to drumming, one of the few moments in a day I think about nothing. When making art I’m usually making grocery lists in my mind or watching reruns of “Castle.” I naturally build and deconstruct on impulse. I consider every single mark, from the large portraits down to the dried-up glue stick. For flyers, I use a different template. You have to include certain information and there are ways to utilize text to its full potential. When you take the date, venue and band names out, you are left with negative space instead. It asks questions, I suppose, just not sure which ones quite yet.

How has your time with Times New Viking influenced your art? Has your artistic voice, visually speaking, changed over the years?

Times New Viking was our lives for a good amount of years. We were living our art. Working as collaboration taught me a lot about myself, where my strengths and weaknesses lie. TNV allowed me to travel and see the world, introducing me to so many different perspectives. We worked at a high pace, constantly recording or making promotions or shooting videos. I got to see how art could be a product and a way of living. We stayed true to ourselves and stuck to our guns. I’ve realized that I don’t want an individual, separate artistic voice. I want to be an active member of the world; my art is meant as participation with the world — a collaboration with every idea ever. Music can be life-affirming. Text can cause arousal. Every second of your life is art.

What is the relationship between the music you make and the visual art you make?

I consider them the same thing really. The drawings I create are built very similar to the pop songs I write. Everything is based on a simple, minimalist approach to create. Keep the tools somewhat blunt yet reliable. There are endless combinations. Pop songs are all the same song just heard completely different. I try to never hear a song the same way twice. I do the same approach when looking at paintings or trees or pretty much everything.

Why do you make the art you make?

I have no idea what I do or why I do it. I have constantly built compositions out of scraps of paper since elementary school. It’s just always been a constant. Same goes with melodies and songs. It’s something to ponder in the shower or while walking to the store. I know I don’t do it because it’s profitable. I hope someone can figure it out for me this month.