Run-DMC, The Beastie Boys, Redman, De La Soul, LL Cool J and Public Enemy are just a few of the Hip Hop artists on Cey Adams’ resumé. The original creative director for Def Jam Recordings, Adams has reveled in a lucrative career utilizing his skills in graphic design, graffiti and fine art for the past few decades.
Adams’ advertising campaigns have been featured in The Source many times, including designs for Bad Boy Records and Def Jam. Adams studied painting at New York’s School of Visual Arts and ultimately had work exhibited alongside Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. In 1982, he appeared in the historic PBS documentary Style Wars about subway graffiti in New York.
A year later, Adams met Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) of The Beastie Boys and the close relationship they forged eventually evolved into a job. Adams designed the graffiti lettering that spelled out the name of the motley trio on the cover of their 12″ single for “Cooky Puss.” Around the same time, he began working with Simmons’ Rush Artist Management creating logos, tour merchandising, billboards and advertising campaigns for rap artists.
Fast-forward to 2016 and Adams’ career is in a place where he can pick and choose what he wants to do. He recently teamed up with celebrated photographer Janette Beckman for limited edition pressing of their collaborative art. Beckman’s photos of artists like Slick Rick, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and Public Enemy get a special hand embellishment from Adams, creating colorful iconic pop art.
“The stuff I’m doing with Janette is not the best representation of what I’m doing right now,” Adams tells us. “I am collaborating on stuff with her, but it doesn’t require the same type of intensity the stuff I’m doing alone does. To put it in perspective, the stuff I’m doing with her is like doodling compared to what the paintings look like.”
Last year, Adams did an exhibition called “Trusted Brands,” a throwback to his graphic design days where he would reinterpret popular brands from the 60s and 70s with his own signature style. His current work is more like a modern day collage with vintage logos as a focal point. From Captain Crunch, Shell and Hot Wheels to Pan-Am Airlines, Miller High Life and Kool-Aid, they’re all brands that evoke a sense of nostalgia for not only Adams, but also the public.
“There are a lot of the brands I grew up with as a kid,” he says. “When I decided I wanted to make paintings, the first step was to perfect the technique. Then I had to figure out what the subject was going to be. I started working with lettering and wanted to do something that was completely personal to me.”
As an homage to his pop art idols such as Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Jacob Lawrence, his recent body of work reflects upon Adams’ early days, a time when he was still trying to figure out what his style was going to be. Each painting is extremely detailed. It takes careful dissection to grasp everything he’s trying to present.
“The pieces cover all the ground I need them to,” he says. “There’s a photo of Eminem in Captain Crunch. There’s an homage to Keith Haring in there. It gives you something to do and you really have to focus. At the core, if all you see is Captain Crunch, that’s okay, too. It depends on what you want to bring to it.”
The overall concept, however, is pure. “If you look at it and it makes you smile, and it reminds you of a simpler time, that’s the goal,” he says. “That’s what it is for me. It’s as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.”
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Photos: Chuck D & LL Cool J by Janette Beckman, Paintings: Chuck D by Queen Andrea and LL Cool J by Cey Adams