Chicago artist emerges after years of hiding his talent
By Mary Beard
5 a.m. – it’s dark, quiet and avoided by most people. Adam Clement ’83 las is not most people. At 5 a.m. while his house sleeps, he’s awake and living a double life. In a few hours he’ll go off to work as Adam Clement: deputy chief information officer in the Bureau of Technology for the Cook County Board. But for now, hidden away in his basement, he is Adam Clement: artist.
“I grew up in a house with parents who were interested in everything modern – whether it be art, architecture or design,” remembers Clement. He recalls constant discussions of the new buildings being added to the Chicago skyline and an instance where his parents bought a traditional house and promptly ripped out the old staircase. “I think that is where I acquired my ‘less is more’ taste,” he says with a laugh.
As a Chicago teen, Clement never took art classes but dabbled in geometric sketches. After high school, he took a year off to draft at the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architecture firm in Chicago under the late, great architect Walter Netsch hon ’08 (uic).
“I was in heaven,” recalls Clement, admitting that Netsch was a huge influence. “Walter told me, ‘Don’t worry about school – just keep drawing.’” Clement didn’t, however, always heed the architect’s advice.
A set of competing interests
Clement did worry about school at the University of Illinois; for him, a long family history with the institution made the choice easy, but choosing his field of study proved more difficult. After considering different options, he decided to major in political science rather than pursue a degree in art and design.
On campus, when he wasn’t studying or spending time with his wife-to-be, Jean Ziengenfuss Clement ’81 ed, Clement was drawing. He began experimenting with techniques, switching from ink to pencil. “The best ideas flow so fast, I didn’t have time to get them down,” he says of his college days.
After graduating, Clement returned to Chicago to begin working as a program officer for the Joyce Foundation, a charitable organization that serves the Great Lakes area. There he helped recommend proposals that would receive funding, including non-profit art groups. “That job was just incredible,” he recalls. But despite close encounters with the art world, he kept his own skills to himself.
Putting himself out there
Life went on, and Clement worked and raised his children, Michael ’00 las, Leana and Jessica. But he also kept working with patterns, symmetry and free-flowing art. “Once I realized I wasn’t going to stop doing it,” he says, “I decided to put myself out there.”
At a friend’s birthday party, a conversation about the economy took an unexpected turn. Clement soon discovered that he wasn’t speaking with just another partygoer, but with Laurie Glenn, founder of the Th!nk Art Salon. After they spoke, he sent along his work and was chosen as Th!nk’s Featured Emerging Artist from October-December 2010.
“My goal was just to get it out there and get a reaction,” Clement says. A reaction was what he got from his friends, many of whom had no idea he was artistic at all. “When I told them what I was doing, they just looked at me and said, ‘An exhibition of what?”
Since that initial exhibition, Clement has been busy. This fall, the artist displayed work at two separate exhibitions in Chicago. In August his drawings were featured in the exhibit “Hand Drawn Geometry” at the Chicago Union League; he returned to Th!nk alongside fellow Chicago artist John Miller for the exhibit, “An Alternate Reality.”
Would he do things differently if he could go back?
“I feel very comfortable with the fact that I have no formal training and how this all unfolded,” he says. “It all came out, and I haven’t really looked back since.”
Beard is a senior in the College of Media news-editorial journalism program and was a fall intern at the UIAA.