I first met Adam six years ago, at his art show behind the local comic shop Astro Zombies. I had seen some of his work at just about everyone of my friend’s house but I had yet to meet the artist behind the paintings. It was one of those nice spring Albuquerque nights, where the weather is a cool 70 degrees and the streets of Nob Hill were mildly crowded. I had met a few friends at brewery to grab a beer as and we decided to walk down the street to see his art opening after. As we walked into the gallery, I noticed it was a small space, no larger than 8 feet by 10 feet with white walls and a dozen or so of his painted canvases and skate decks. There was a mix of kids and adults in and outside, as the space was buzzing with interest; however, the artist was nowhere to be seen. We looked at his art pieces and I was stoked to see his hand-painted Misfits skate decks. Each one was a portrait of Jerry, Doyle, and Glenn with a somewhat water color background that brought life to each character. After a half an hour of browsing the small art space, we decided to walk back to the brewery, when a curtain from the back of the room turned. Adam quietly made his way out. It was then that I got a sense of his personality, and more importantly his craft, as I thought to myself he is truly an artist. Not an artist that was trying to make a few bucks by chatting up the crowd but something completely different. Instead he walked up and humbly introduced himself, almost as if he was the shy kid at show and tell. We talked for a few minutes about the Misfits and his art, but I could tell immediately there was a discomfort about him and uneasiness from being in a crowd. I told him I would buy two of his prints that were surprisingly only $15 each and as I pulled out my wallet I only had a $20. He mentioned that it was all right and that a $20 would work, which caught me off guard being that his art at a gallery in California or New York could’ve easily sold for $100 on up. Here he was practically giving it away. I realized that for Adam, it was not about the money but that he needs to create art like our lungs need air. For Adam his art is his lifeline.
Since that day I’ve become a fan of his work. I’ve purchased a few more pieces and have seen his success as an artist rise to a cult-like following. His fan base is in the tens of thousands, and spans from every nook and cranny of the globe. When he agreed to do this story I was eager while surprised at the same time. I knew he was a very private person, so I wasn’t sure why, perhaps it was our similar interest in 70s choppers, 50s hot rods, or simply he just wanted some like-minded company. As I always do, I grabbed my notebook and drove to his apartment without a second to waste. When I walked up to his place it was exactly as I expected; he had a fully enclosed iron gate that was padlocked in the front, making it inaccessible to the public. It reminded me of an old Frankenstein movie, only this time it was Frankenstein that realized that everyone else were the monsters and the locked gate was for him. His place was somewhat small and meager, most likely built in the seventies to house the growing college population of the area. There was a ton of various artwork covering just about every inch of his apartment, some of it being his but most it from famous lowbrow artist in the chopper and hotrod scene with a few vintage horror movie posters from the sixties. As we talked, I could tell he rarely has company as everything within his apartment had a particular place, which made his story all the more interesting.
Adam was born in the Duke City to two hard-working, blue collar parents, Willie and Lina. Subsequently, Adam gained both of their best traits, his father’s work ethic and his mother’s creativity. His mother who he mentioned “was always stitching and painting or making ceramics.” His father was also an artist, but in another fashion. He was a hot rod enthusiast constantly working on a project car. For fun, he would take Adam and his two brothers to local car shows or sit the boys down to watch movies like American Graffiti, the California Kid and Bullet with Steve Macqueen. When Adam was a child in grade school, his focus was never on academics so much as it was purely on art. When the other students were practicing cursive he was thinking of pinstripe lettering. When they were drawing family portraits he was sketching hot rods burning tires. There wasn’t a period in time when he did not have a pencil in hand. Adam was also fascinated by the old school horror movies like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man. He can recall as a young kid sitting on the living room floor with a sketchbook practicing the villains in the Scooby Doo cartons. As he grew older, his shift started to move in the tattoo direction and he purchased his first machine while still in high school. His older brother of nine years, nicknamed Tubby, had just opened a small auto body shop and naturally Adam worked part-time while finishing school. He would take to auto repair like a fish to water and fine tune his skills with body work, pinstriping, upholstery, and exotic paint schemes like heavy flake and elaborate scallop designs.
Within a few years, Adam’s skills as a tattoo artist had also started improve as he saw a career opportunity. He had also started to realize that holding ordinary mundane jobs would be out of the question for him as he started to see the flow of artwork in everyday life. Instead of wanting to do construction, he wanted to draw the blueprints. Instead of working with his father as a handyman on AC units, he envisioned the design of the units; his creative mind had already taken over completely. Adam realized he would need to start making some real money if he ever wanted to leave Albuquerque and figured tattooing could pay the bills while at the same time providing the financial outlet he needed. As fate would have it, one day at his brother’s shop a customer asked Adam to paint his car and as Adam proceeded to show the customer his portfolio for idea, the customer was in awe with Adams talent. He asked Adam to drop by his tattoo shop in Nob Hill to see what he thought; Adam was immediately sold on the idea of becoming a tattoo artist. The industry had just started to bloom and within a year Adam had started to make a name in the profession. Within three years, like most gifted artists, he found himself being boxed in and restricted creatively and moved around from a few different local shops but ultimately decided to try his luck in sunny California instead. He submitted his portfolio to a couple of reputable shops around Venice and was offered a job instantly at House of Ink.
Once in Venice Adam quickly learned the trade and business aspect of the tattoo industry. He also discovered that California offered something New Mexico could not, a variety of mixed mediums. There in Venice on the strip he could blend in with the locals and other artists to discover street art, murals, canvas water coloring, and enhanced tattooing. He spent five years in Venice and decided to move to Torrance and tattoo at the Pike for another year, and then moved onto a shop in Echo Park and Sunset, called El Classico’. The area had started to gentrify and change as did his clientele and tattoos, but there was still a rich Hispanic culture that made Adam feel more at home. He no longer would be tattooing script and traditional tattoos, but was starting to venture into hyper realism and mixed color mediums instead. He also moved out of Long Beach to Silver Lake, which is close to Echo Park and within walking distance to Amoeba Records and local art galleries. Like all good things that come with a new atmosphere some of the charm and strong cultural roots that was once Echo Park and Silver Lake hard shifted. In addition, what was once an affordable housing market had overnight changed. With the more expensive housing and the cost of living rising, it was slowly starting to push many of the artists and locals out, and Adam was no exception. The tattoo bubble had burst, which left Adam scrambling for some extra income.
Luckily, throughout his years in Southern California he had made a reputable name for himself and was introduced to a few Hollywood producers, and got his first taste of the profession. He was asked to sit down with a few producers in Hollywood and draw a storyboard for their script of a story based on hotrods and tales of teenage angst, comparable to the Robert Rodriguez B-rated movie Road Racers. Adam drew over 100 pages of the storyboard, mostly pencil sketches finalized in ink with complete artistic control. He could tattoo during the day and sketch his visualization of a cool hot rod flick at night. Just as his boards were getting approved and ready for submission, at the last minute the project was scrapped. In one way or another, Adam had started to lose his taste for the tattoo industry and his last ditch effort of becoming an illustrator had fallen through.
Luckily, the tech app Facebook had started to develop and Adam had an idea of selling his artwork on the site, which would prove to be a valuable outlet. He started to paint after work at home and would sell a piece or two a day to make up for the decline of the tattoo industry. After ten years of the California hustle and bustle, he decided to take a breather and come back to New Mexico. Once back, he was offered a position at Ten Penny and worked by appointment only. He also focused more so on his painting and started to hang his work on the shop walls, which sold immediately.
As glamorous as tattooing may seem, there is another side to the profession that most people may never see. There comes a point in every artist’s career when they start to question the longevity of the profession. Most artists’ hands start to fail after a few years of holding a machine for hours on end, their backs start to tighten from the constant hunching, and the money is no longer what it once was. After some consideration, Adam decided to hang up his tattoo machine. Unfortunately for Adam, the local art scene in Albuquerque was stagnant. To get his name out to the public, he decided to take an aggressive gorilla-style approach and hit the streets. At night he hung his art along bike racks, outside of store windows, and from poles; each piece was given away. Through social media he also created a clever way of distributing his art for free by announcing giveaways at various locations and times around the city. Within less than a year, his following grew and he was asked to host three art shows, one of which was at the comic shop Astro Zombies.
Adam had started to breath with fresh lungs again as his art and the movement became exciting again. As his local fan base grew, another social media platform had just launched called Instagram. He jumped on the site, creating a business platform and became an overnight sensation. With the use of Instagram he could update fans with new art pieces, along with showing quick snippets of his process in real-time. Over the course of the last six years, his artwork is continually shifting from oil, water color, and sharpie to painting toy models. Each night paints four to six new pieces. Each painting that is shared with Instagram is usually purchased within seconds. Some of his followers have purchased over one hundred to even three hundred of his pieces, and to this day he is still humble and unfazed. Perhaps it’s his father’s work ethic, but there is something in the New Mexico air that keeps our people humble and grounded. For Adam, he has to constantly create, work, and find new mediums. For him, conformity is uncomfortable and punching a clock is beyond crazy in his eyes.
I personally admire any artist that can create their own freedom from their vision, but unfortunately I have only met one or two that sees the world through a true artist’s eyes. Adam has found his nitch, or his place in the world. He lives and works on his own time, he answers to none, and creates what he feels, thus making him truly a free man.
After I wrapped up my interview with him, we spent another four hours talking about the usual things that most people reflect on, aliens, religion, music, politics, hotrods and so forth; well, perhaps not everyone, just those that are on the same wave length. I also appreciated the fact that he is one of the only people that can pack up his valuables and move within hours at any given moment. There is nothing holding him down as his years of hard work has given him a well deserved independence that most may never see in today’s society. I doubt Adam will ever see himself as a genius but, then again, most artists never really do; but there is something refreshing about the way he sees the world. A world through the eyes of a man, that most will never know.