Artist Ryan Adams standing
Ryan Adams, 37, is preparing for his solo show in Portland on Oct. 7. (Portland Phoenix/Evan Edmonds)
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Born and raised in Portland, Maine, Ryan Adams went through a unique journey to get where he is now: married to a fellow artist, with two kids, and preparing to launch a solo mural project at the beginning of November.

At his studio space on Thompson’s Point, as rain poured down, Adams looked back on what led him to this point in his artistic livelihood.

Adams, 37, swore he was never coming back to Portland when he left to attend Emmanuel College in Boston. He went and got a degree in psychology, where he weighed up his plans to be an attorney or pursue his fascination with how the brain works.

Artist Ryan Adams working
Ryan Adams draws at his studio. His work features a geometric style of letter-forming incorporating themes from his life growing up in Portland. (Portland Phoenix/Evan Edmonds)

But, he said, a pretty severe leg break brought him a necessary timeout – during which he spent a vast majority of his time drawing – further igniting his passion to become a full-time artist.

“Things happen for a reason and they point you in certain directions,” he said.

He’d always been a drawer, and his obsession with graffiti writing was unlocked when a teacher gave him a book of subway art when he was ten years old. The goal with graffiti, he explained, is the contradiction of both paying homage to the art itself, while also having a style that’s your own, and uniquely recognizable: “That’s what you strive for.”

His style is lettering-forward, with geometric shapes taking a big role and featuring personal themes and life lessons. A lot of it has to do with his upbringing in Portland, during which Adams said his family was one of very few Black families in the city at the time.

Woodfords Corner mural
A mural at 684 Forest Ave. in Portland’s Woodfords Corner neighborhood, where the emphasis is on building community. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)

The inspiration for his new solo show, “Second Season,” – opening on Oct. 7 in Notch8 Gallery at 52 Center Street – is both a manner of reflection on different chapters of life, as well as paying homage to the art of graffiti writing, and how his education on the art form evolved over the years.

For Adams’ coming of age as an artist, a majority of it was self-taught, as the graffiti movement doesn’t typically get a mention in mainstream art teachings. Often, he said, people would be observing his art and assume he had a euro-centric inspiration, like Picasso for example, but that’s not the case.

“My heroes are overlooked in textbooks,” Adams said, “I had to read about them on my own time, I had to be told about them.

Adams always had the art gene – it’s so strong in fact, that it even coincides with family. Adams’ wife, Rachel Gloria Adams, is an accomplished artist herself – a mural painter and textile designer. Their daughters, Zoë, 5, and Norah, 3, are already showing signs of following suit. Adams said Zoë has already taken on the artistic mantle, including some drawings of her family featured at the Thompson’s Point studio. Norah, on the other hand, is an athletic kid, Adams said, like the majority of his and Rachel’s family members.

He and Rachel work together on just about everything, he said. The business side of things, their marriage, and parenting.

“I lucked out. I don’t think there’s too many people on the planet I could pull all this off with,” Adams said.

Making Portland Work is an occasional series about people who do their jobs, day in and day out, in good times and bad. They’re the unsung heroes we see and depend on every day. Do you know someone we should include? Let us know at [email protected].

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