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A Visual Investigation with ADAM DRESSNER

The #CLOUT conversation series aim to shed light on how deeply creative influences affect the thought process of people. Focusing on unique relationships and stories of Creatives, we want to continuously question and update what influences will impact the future.

As the first guest of the conversation series, GAHSP invited Adam Dressner, New York based self-taught painter, to share his perspective on creative influences that affect his artistic process. Dressner’s rousing portraits and sceneries face the viewer with complex characters, offering a glimpse of his investigative approach to illustrate emotions and expressions. The paintings not only reflect who is in front of the artist’s eyes, all the more they dive deeper into his memory and imagination, thereby creating transformed narratives and alternate realities, enriched with cultural references.

A graduate of Yale Law School (J.D.), Cambridge (M.Phil. Criminology), and Princeton University (A.B.), Dressner practiced as an attorney prior to working as an artist. Beyond legal advocacy, he researched the infringement of civil liberties in relation to video surveillance and facial recognition technologies. This expertise brought him to the U.K. as a Fulbright scholar, where he produced scholarship illuminating the effects of mass surveillance on freedom of speech. These experiences contribute to the powerful psychological dimension in Dressner’s work, and the personal ethics surrounding his approach to painting the people he meets on his long walks throughout New York City.

What do you think is the difference between inspiration and influence?

Inspiration is the feeling I get in the face of a great work of art that moves me. I want to race back home and create. It is the feeling I got at the Met’s Francis Bacon retrospective in 2009. At the time I did not know how to paint, or understand the art history references in his work, but I knew The Screaming Pope made me feel something in my gut. In that moment I decided to teach myself to paint, and I made my first self portrait that summer.

I think influence is the effect over time of being exposed to things - good, bad, neutral - and how that exposure changes one’s art practice. We are all influenced constantly in our daily lives and I think our work is the culmination of our thoughts, perceptions and experiences as we move through life.

What/Who influences your work?

My earliest influences were the permanent collections at the Met and MoMA. My mother took me regularly when I was young and I have returned throughout my life. The vast swaths of bold color of Matisse. The mischievous playfulness in Frans Hals’ figuration. The confidence of Holbein. David Hockney’s anti-camera perspective. Magritte’s sense of humor.

I was recently blown away by Jennifer Packer’s show at the Whitney and the fine scratching lines she uses to draw small objects within large planes of color in these enormous paintings. I know I will be influenced by the exposed layering and movement of Lizzy Lunday’s work. I am in awe of Dana Schutz.

Do you ever question if you are being influenced by the right thing/person?

I don’t worry too much about being influenced by the wrong thing because I feel like if I am influenced by it in the first place it is because I am drawn to it in some way. However, I have made a conscious effort to not learn the academic rules of perspective gridding and other drawing devices because I want to keep my paintings a little wonky.

You often portray people that you know, meaning you have a unique relationship with the subject of your paintings. How does that impact your creative vision?

My favorite muse for many years was my grandmother, Sonia Segoda Dressner. She was easy to paint because she was a gorgeous nonagenarian (I just looked that up - it means someone in their 90s) who was an actress and violinist and therefore quite comfortable being the star of the show.

My goal in painting people is to capture an emotion, expression or feeling and share that with the viewer. While I am constantly influenced by art and life and culture, I try to be as direct and sincere as I can. I try not to self censor.

Would you ever want to paint the portrait of a well-known person? If so, who would that be?

Cecily Strong

What are outside influences that you try to avoid in order to protect your creativity?

As I get more skilled at the craft of oil painting there is the danger of making things too polished. When I first started there was no danger because an earnest attempt at realism would look crude naturally. Now, I have to think about it more. So while there is not a particular outside influence I try to avoid, I constantly remind myself to keep things loose and if I fall into the trap of overworking something I stop.

I recently attended an excellent Zoom discussion with Robin F. Williams hosted by the Brooklyn Rail. Robin talked about how she sometimes sets up barriers for herself to constrain choices and prevent making paintings too tight. I have another friend who sometimes draws with her non-dominant hand for the same reason. I am interested in trying these methods.

How do you think NFTs will influence the way we perceive creativity?

I am still new to NFTs, but my impression is that NFTs are more about the business/ownership of art and property rights than about the art itself. If so, I don’t think NFTs will change creativity but they may change the art market.

While I appreciate and even create digital art and animation, I am still partial to physical paintings that you can see and touch (well, maybe don’t touch) in a real room at human scale.

To learn more about Dressner's work visit

This interview contributes to a new media format, where Creatives are in full control of their narratives. By exploring alternatives to narrative journalism, GAHSP starts unconventional conversations, emphasizing values and problems that shape our lives collectively.

Written and Edited by Julia Horvath

Image Courtesy of Adam Dressner


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