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Profile: Jon Adams: The Goose on the Hill - disability arts online
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25 September 2009

This autumn Pallant House Gallery plays host to an exhibition of works by the Portsmouth-based Outsider artist, Jon Adams between 13 October – 22 November 2009

artwork by jon adams consisting of a series of books with link chain and spanner Jon Adams

Dyslexic Library by Jon Adams

Image: Jon Adams

The Goose on the Hill is a retrospective of the work of Jon Adams, marking the culmination of the artists two year-long project as Artist-in-Residence for Southern Rail. The exhibition is also set to coincide with a major exhibition of outsider art at Pallant House Gallery.

‘The Goose on the Hill’ is an intimate journey into the artist’s past told through an accumulation of found objects, each representing different episodes in Adams’ life. The show is inspired by the language and symbolism of geology – serving as a metaphor for the ways in which we are shaped and formed by our personal histories.

an artwork by jon adams shows a black pen with barbs attached and two halves of a decorated box Jon Adams

My School Pen and Box by Jon Adams

Image: Jon Adams

The show takes its name from an episode that occurred during one of Adams’ regular train journeys as Artist in Residence for Southern Rail when he would gather fragments of conversations from his fellow passengers.

One evening he saw a goose standing up on the hill, highlighted against the sky. The image struck a chord – seeming to represent the action of sticking one’s neck out and being visible - something Adams had long struggled with, having spent most of his life keeping things hidden.

Growing up with undiagnosed dyslexia, Adams’ school days were blighted by the failure to understand his condition, and the assumption that he was ‘stupid’. Adams cites the example of a teacher who ripped up a piece of his artwork in front of the class because he had misspelled his own name as a key episode in his life. This incident prompted what Adams describes as the ‘wild goose chase’ away from the artistic ambitions he had first vocalised aged 6. For many years art became something to hide, a too-personal retreat surrounded by shame and secrecy.

Geology was the second best path - the subject he turned to having fled from his creative ambitions. Having both synaesthesia and Asperger syndrome, Adams acknowledges the particular appeal fossils had for him, finding inanimate objects easier to read than people.

In ‘The Goose on the Hill’ Adams uses geological timescales and language to represent his life story, assembling a collection of fossil-like objects representing different episodes in his life and arranging them in glazed Print Room cases to reference traditional museum displays.

The exhibits include the first fossil Jon found when he was nine years old in Malta, the plane tickets for the journey that took him there as well as pieces from his childhood such as a teddy bear, the first album that meant something to him, and ‘redacted school reports’ – censored to leave only the negative comments.

‘It is all about connections’, says Adams, ’those self-hidden histories that we write for ourselves. We all have glimpses of others’ lives but rarely do we see everything laid out in front of us so we guess and fill in the gaps. The study of geology is also a glimpse into the history of the earth - a ‘best guess’ where all we see are mere fragments that we have to piece together. The show at Pallant House gallery is based on a geological interpretation, a sample ‘timeline’, the only one I know – my own.

To see a gallery of images from the exhibition go to dao's galleries section