by Robert Starkey

Mark Adams 1925 - 2006

An Appreciation of an Artist and Friend

One of the things I have envied and admired about both Mark and Beth is their ability to devote their lives to their creative passions. Few people can say they have lived more than half a century doing what they loved. When my partner Rob first understood his capability to draw, we were living in a small village on the South coast of Crete. He came to me with a drawing of the castle ruins where we had taught yoga classes. I wondered how someone with no formal art training could just pick up a pencil one day and create something so beautiful. Rob assured me the reason he could draw was because he had absorbed the artistic energy that permeated the firehouse on 22nd Street, San Francisco, where he had spent considerable time the decade before. I know that if he had never met Mark and Beth he would probably never have had the opportunity to follow his own passion before he died. Although he had enjoyed one tenth of the time following his own bliss, I was grateful for the door Mark and Beth had opened to him by their example.

I spent the last decade helping Mark out in his studio. They say hindsight is 20/20, so there are a lot of things about that decade that only make perfect sense to me now. I needed to understand how to participate in the kind of male bonding that exists between fathers and sons. I was not able to experience that with my own father until the end of his life, so Iím grateful to have shared that kind of bond with Mark. It was the first time I felt like one of the guys sharing things only guys share with each other. Only looking back now do I understand the enormity, the sacred nature of what we shared. I am honored that he found it in his heart to trust me to a point where that kind of intimacy was possible.

I understand now that Mark depended on me to help him do many things he was no longer able to do himself. When we first began to catalogue Bethís prints he was very meticulous in his instructions of how to handle each print to avoid damaging it. Those of you who know Mark will understand when I say, with all due respect and affection, he was convinced there was one best way to do something: his way. After the first few months of working in the studio though, I think Mark came to understand that I had been trained by the best obsessive compulsive German American mother and grandmother bloodlines could provide, therefore I needed no supervision.

The real test came when I was asked to help Mark with his last two major projects. During these projects there were many situations that gave me the opportunity to fully understand what was happening to Mark physically. But my Catholic mother also trained me well in the art of denial. There is no better use for denial than to give the mind time to grasp what one is not quite ready to face. Through our bond, Mark and I decided to do what intergenerational relationships are designed for. Whatever he was no longer able to do for himself I was able to do for him. In return he imparted knowledge and wisdom that can only be gained through countless generations of experience and struggle. I consider the written word to be my personal artform, so Mark and I were able to have long discussions about the parallels that exist between the art of writing and the fine arts of color and form. I was honored to be able to participate in this mutual exchange.

Like Rob, I too have been infected by the creative spirit of the firehouse on 22nd Street. But on another plane I was given an opportunity to examine my own mortality. More than any situation before, this particular experience, standing on the edge of eternity, has forced me to contemplate my own mortality. My challenge is to learn to embrace it, to accept it without fear so I can approach it while my spirit is still alive, so I can enter it in peace. I have also been humbled by knowing that the end of life is a process of giving up what we have become attached to. That requires those around us to rise to the calling of unconditional love. That is what family is all about, whether in blood or by choice.

Mark Adams is not gone. His spirit shines in the thousands of points of light that are refracted upon congregations each time the sun rises behind one of his windows. His creative genius can be found hiding in the shadows of his still life watercolors. His presence can be felt in the textures and weave of his tapestries. His whimsical nature greets thousands of commuters each day on the walls of MacArthur station. Markís passion lives on through the vibrant kaleidoscopes of color he so artfully blended into images that provoke joy and wonder in the observer. But most of all he leaves a legacy of deliberate and calculated works that when deconstructed lead to the heart of a man obsessed with interpreting the shadows and light and color that make our world come alive.

I am proud that I can call him my friend and I am not ashamed to tell you that I love him!


Robert Starkey also contributed Africa to FlashPoint Issue 8.

A portrait of the artist by his wife Beth Van Hoesen can be found at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco web site: "M.A. (Portrait of Mark Adams)'