Project Description

Derrick Adams: Buoyant

Derrick Adams – photo by Christopher Garcia Valle

Contemporary artist Derrick Adams has observed that in art and in reality, images of Black people at play – being joyful and simply enjoying life – are not the norm.

To fill this void, Adams created the painting series Floaters between 2016–2019, where Black men, women and children lounged in or rested on novelty floaties in the pool. He wanted to share these images with the world, and for Blacks to see themselves through a lens of freedom, fun and leisure.

In the exhibition, Derrick Adams: Buoyant, 12 of these mixed-media works come together in a dynamic, vibrant presentation at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. In the gallery, these large-scale paintings are complemented by beach chairs and giant pool floats, along with one of the inspirations for the idea of the show – a 1967 Ebony magazine article and photo spread on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vacation in Jamaica.

Digital Reproduction from Ebony, June 1967

Also included in the exhibition is a woodblock print the MFA purchased in 2019, based on one of the paintings in the exhibition, Self-Portrait on Float (2019).

Derrick Adams: Buoyant at the MFA has been a year in the making. The show is the artist’s first major solo museum exhibition in the Southeast. 

A conversation with Derrick Adams
and Mickalene Thomas
on “Radical Black Joy.” 

Adams’ painting-and-collage works are grand in size, popping with bright colors and bold patterns on the surface, but they brim with an undercurrent of contextual depth. In the midst of headlines and hashtags about the struggle for racial justice and equality for Black Americans, Adams uses his art to reclaim and celebrate joy, pleasure and respite for the Black image and spirit. In a February 2020 artnet News interview, Adams said his work is, “a testament of perseverance.”

“We have to represent a certain sense of normalcy in order to stabilize the culture so that young people who are coming after us can look at themselves as fully dimensional humans — not always pushing against something, but basically just existing in a way that’s unapologetic and natural,” Adams said in the article. 

“That’s what I’m thinking about in my studio – what can I reveal that has not been shown? And it always goes back to the simplest of things, like normalcy. Black people — not entertaining, just being, living. Letting people deal with that as reality.”

Upcoming Zoom Events

Panel Discussion
October 15, 6:30-8 pm

African American Leisure in the Sunshine State and Beyond

Panelists: Contemporary Artist Derrick Adams; Dr. Gretchen Sorin, author of Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights and Cynthia Wilson-Graham, co-author of Remembering Paradise Park: Tourism and Segregation in Silver Springs. Moderated by MFA Curator of Contemporary Art Katherine Pill.

Details here

October 22, 6-7 pm
Black Fantastic, Buoyant and Bold: Art’s Ways of Levitating Over the Weight of the World

A reading of Afro-Futurism fiction by author Tenea D. Johnson.

Details here

October 25, 3-4 pm
Poetry and Spoken Word with Denzel Johnson-Green

Details here

September 24, 2020 | By Bob Devin Jones

“BLM” Black Leisure Matters
The Art and Jazz of Derrick Adams

Through November 29
Museum of Fine Arts
Details here 

“Regardless of all the things that are happening to Black people around the world, we
still find time to connect with each other. If we were constantly in this place of battle, we
really couldn’t exist. We need time to replenish our love and faith and joy.”- Derrick Adams

Derrick Adams (American, b. 1970), Floater 19,
2016, Acrylic paint and collage on paper, Pizzuti Collection

. . . . . FOUR HARLEM RENAISSANCE ARTISTS WALK INTO PRAISE HOUSE
. . . . . SCULPTORS OF PAINT N’ CLAY, AARON DOUGLAS AND AUGUSTA SAVAGE
. . . . . PAINTERS JACOB LAWRENCE AND ROMARE BEARDEN,
. . . . . BEARDEN HAD JUST FINISHED HIS LATEST COLLAGE WITH ITS PATCH OF ATAVISTIC
. . . . . . . . . . BLUE

. . . . . (RIGHT AT THE CENTER OF THE WORK)
. . . . . THEY ALL HAD FOUND THIS “BLUE” COLOR
. . . . . THIS BLUE COLOR?

. . . . . IT IS THE MIDDLE PASSAGE
MIDDLE PASSAGE BLUE… ACHE AND REUNION
DERRICK ADAMS HAS FOUND THIS COLOR TOO

Derrick Adams (American, b. 1970), Floater 36, 2017, Acrylic paint and collage on paper, Collection of Audrey & Jeffrey Spiegel

ADAMS’ SERIES OF CANVASES AT THE MFA IMMERSE YOU IN THIS BAPTISM OF LEISURE
THE IRONIC SMILES OF THE VARIOUS BUOYANT FLOATERS
PAY MOSTLY TIGHT LIP HOMAGE TO THE “BLM” FLOATERS WHO WERE NOT AS BUOYANT
THE “BLM” SWIMMERS AT THAT FLORIDA MOTEL SWIMMING POOL
WHERE THE PROPRIETOR ADDED DANGEROUS CHEMICALS (ACID) TO THE BLUE
WHILE THEY WERE IN THE POOL

THE STARTLED, YET DEFIANT MASKS OF DERRICK ADAMS’ BUOYANT FLOATERS
CONFRONT AND GAZE DIRECTLY AT THE VIEWERS
THERE IS NO DISCERNIBLE HORIZON OR EDGE TO THE POOL THEY ARE IN
THERE IS NO EDGE TO THIS  ATAVISTIC BLUE
TO WHAT ZORA NEALE HURSTON CALLS THE “EPIC OF DISPLACEMENT”
THE DISPLACEMENT OF AFRICAN PEOPLE TO SOME OTHER WHERE… 

SOME OF WHAT YOU’LL SEE

FLOATER # 66 TWO HANDSOME MALE FIGURES
ONE ENCIRCLED (CONTAINED) BY A WATERMELON FLOATER, THE OTHER BROTHER MAN,
LEGS AKIMBO, RECLINING (SEDUCTION) ON A MULTI COLORED RAFT
THE VIEWER SERIOUSLY DRAWN TOWARDS THE AREA OF HIS CROTCH

Derrick Adams (American, b. 1970), Floater 66, 2018, Acrylic paint and collage on paper, Collection of D. Rebecca Davies and Jeremy Kramer

FLOATERS #17 AND #28
TWO BEAUTIFUL SISTER WOMEN SUGGESTIVLY HOLDING (GRASPING) THE NECK
OF THEIR INFLATABLE PLASTIC AQUATIC ANIMALS…
HOUSE OR FIELD SOMETIMES YOU JUST GOT TO HOLD ON!
B U O Y A N T!
YOU KNOW LIKE SALLY HEMMINGS AND COUNTLESS OTHERS… BUOYANT!

Derrick Adams (American, b. 1970), Floater 17,
2016, Mixed media collage on paper, Pizzuti Collection

FLOATER #19
BROTHER MAN IN A SKINTIGHT SPEEDO BATHING COSTUME WITH THE STARS AND STRIPES RUNNING UP THE CRACK OF HIS BEHIND… INVITING ALL TO JUST “KISS IT”! BUOYANT INDEED!

“Floater 74” in Derrick Adams Buoyant at the MFA St. Petersburg

FLOATER #74
A QUARTET OF LARGE ACRYLIC PAINT AND FABRIC COLLAGES ON PAPER
SOME OF THE “BLM”  ARE REUNITED IN THE BLUE
ALL SEEMING TO HAVE FOUND THE PURPOSE OF THIS PLUNGE INTO THE WATER
STAY BUOYANT!
STAY BUOYANT
STAY BUOYANT

. . . . . LOUIS ARMSTRONG FOUND IT
. . . . . ARETHA FRANKLIN FOUND IT
. . . . . DUKE ELLINGTON FOUND IT
. . . . . JOSEPHINE BAKER AND KATHERINE DUNHAM FOUND IT
. . . . . AND PRINCE HAD FOUND IT TOO, A SHAMAN WHO NO LONGER WEARS HIS BLUE SUEDE SHOES

SO BACK AT PRAISE HOUSE
. . . . . THE HARLEM ARTIST WERE GATHERED
. . . . . READY TO PICK THE TALL COTTON
. . . . . THEY WERE FIXIN’ TO PASS THE TORCH, TO DERRICK ADAMS

. . . . . THEY WERE WAITIN’ ON LANGSTON
. . . . . WHO APPARENTLY HAS BEEN DELAYED OR RATHER DEFERRED BY A CONVERSATION
. . . . . A CONVERSATION HE WAS HAVING WITH ZORA NEALE HURSTON
. . . . . A CONVERSATION ABOUT JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT
AND THE WAY HE SPOKE THE BLUES IN HIS PAINTINGS AND ALL THOSE HAITIAN “Papa Legba” CROWNS

“Floater 78” in Derrick Adams Buoyant at the MFA St. Petersburg

THE FOLKS WAITIN’ ON LANGSTON
. . . . . WELL, THAT’S  ALL JUST TOTALLY FINE WITH THEM
. . . . . BECAUSE YOU SEE, THE FOUR OF THEM ARE AT PRAISE HOUSE
TO DISCUSS HOW TO PASS THE TORCH TO DERRICK ADAMS
WHO HAS ARRIVED AT LAST, TWICE AGAIN, FOR THE FIRST TIME,
AND THEY ARE BUOYANT
. . . . . . . . . . BUOYANT!
. . . . . . . . . . BUOYANT! READY TO JAZZ
. . . . . . . . . . BUOYANT! READY TO JAR THE FLOOR
. . . . . . . . . . BUOYANT! READY TO SPEAK THE NAME OF ARTIST DERRICK ADAMS
. . . . . . . . . . AS SOON AS LANGSTON HUGHES ARRIVES WITH THE WATERMELON…
. . . . . . . . . . AND SOME SEVERAL WORDS REGARDING “BLM” BY DR MARTIN LUTHER KING
. . . . . WORDS REPURPOSED FROM AN ARTICLE IN EBONY/LIFE/LOOK MAGAZINE
. . . . . AN INSPIRING ANTECEDENT TO DERRICK ADAMS’ BUOYANT FLOATER SERIES
. . . . . SO ALL OF US, EVERYONE LAST ONE OF US
. . . . . WILL HAVE THE REQUISITE FRAMING TO VIEW THIS NECESSARY AND IMPORTANT WORK
. . . . . PLEASE DON’T MISS THIS DELICIOUS EXHIBITION AT THE MFA
. . . . . YES, YOU MAY GET WET… YOU BETTER!

BUT SO WHAT, YOU WILL ALL BE IN PRAISE HOUSE!!!

Explore Derrick Adams’ work 
at derrickadams.com

Derrick Adams (American, b. 1970), Floater 80, 2018, Acrylic paint on paper, Collection of the artist

Find information on visiting the MFA safely at
mfastpete.org/welcome-back-to-the-mfa