Video: ‘Bill Cosby changed my life’
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones. — Shakespeare
By Kevin Coughlin
Nobody can condone the kinds of crimes that Bill Cosby has been accused of committing.
But so far, they are only accusations, noted a Plainfield artist who owes his big break to the comedian he still considers “a great man.”
“The man that I know, the man that changed my life, is a great man. The man who did so much for institutions, the man who did so much for people going to school, is not the man the world is trying to demonize,” Alonzo Adams said Friday at the Morristown opening of the 24th annual Art in the Atrium show, the state’s largest exhibition of work by African American artists.
The show features 30 artists and runs through March 16, 2016, in the Morris County Administration and Records Building at 10 Court St.
Adams, 54, delivered the keynote. He was among the first African Americans to become an Absolut Artist, and his paintings have been auctioned at Sotheby’s.
Maya Angelou, Wesley Snipes, Alonzo Mourning and Patrick Ewing are among celebrities who have collected his works.
Adams places Cosby atop that list. The entertainer learned of Adams, an aspiring artist working in sales at the time, through a newspaper article almost three decades ago.
“I don’t know what happened [between Cosby and his accusers]. All I know is, back in 1987, when I got a call from that man, and he asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I said I wanted to be a great artist, he said, ‘Well, you’re good. But you’re not great. I want to send you back to grad school, to hone your craft. Because the world is waiting for what you have to offer.'”
Adams earned a master’s degree in fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania, thanks to a fellowship from the Cosbys.
“That’s the man that I know, who literally changed the direction, and the path of my life. And I owe so much to him. I love everything he did for me. I hate what he’s going through right now. I hate the fact that a lot of people seem as though they’re jumping on the bandwagon.
“Nothing’s been proven. But so many people have turned away his fellowships, taken him off boards… It pains me to see … a man whose legacy is being completely destroyed. He was great to me, he changed my world,” Adams said.
Cosby, 78, was charged in December in Pennsylvania in a sexual assault case. Dozens of women have alleged they were sexually assaulted–many claim they were drugged–by the comedian over four decades. Cosby has maintained he is innocent, and his lawyers are trying to get the Pennsylvania charge dismissed.
‘CODE BLUE’ FOR YOUNG BLACK MEN
Adams, meanwhile, is focusing on the plight of young black males in America, with a series of paintings called Code Blue.
The name was gleaned from his mother’s last days in a hospital. Call lights there had three colors. Blue meant a patient was dying, fast.
“We are in a Code Blue situation right now,” Adams said. Young black men are imperiled, he said, by violence from each other, from police, and from the economy.
“A generation is almost lost. There’s almost a sense of hopelessness,” observed the artist, who said he fears for the safety of his two young boys every time they leave the house.
Someone recently challenged him to create art that would tell people a century from now about 2016. “Code Blue is an attempt to do that.”
He’s hoping to find a sponsor for a national tour, to spark discussion about these issues.
Video: Alonzo Adams on Code Blue and a Lost Generation of young black men
‘AN IMPORTANT LEGACY’
Art in the Atrium is meant to to stimulate conversation and promote fellowship, said Viki Craig, who established the exhibition with her husband, attorney Charles Craig.
And it’s intended to send a message to youths:
“We’re doing this every year so young people can see themselves in a positive light, in an artistic medium other than rap and music,” Viki Craig said. “It’s an important thing to be doing, an important legacy.”
Art was a godsend to Adams, who endured childhood taunts of “Bionic Face” as he underwent many operations to correct a congenital condition.
“In classrooms, I wasn’t the smartest,” he recounted. “I wasn’t the fastest, best athlete. I wasn’t the cutest. But I had my hook. I could draw.”
In his 5th grade yearbook, Adams wrote that he wanted to be an artist.
“That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be in my life.”
At Rutgers he had a notion of pursuing engineering. “But calculus took care of that,” Adams joked.
His artistic career has had its ups and downs, too. People remember Michael Jordan’s spectacular dunks, he said, but not the hard work behind them. Adams thanked his wife Cydnie for helping him soar.
“There were times when she lifted me up to the rim to make that dunk,” he told visitors at the Atrium.
Now Adams is on a mission.
One of his most talked-about paintings in the show, I Am the N-Word, depicts a black youth against a backdrop of other words that begin with N.
“I hate the word ‘nigger.’ I hate it, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it,” Adams said. “There are so many other words that we as a people can call each other besides that. That says I am Noble, I am Nubian, I am Never-Ending….I am trying to get that piece on every young brother’s wall that I can.”
Art in the Atrium, made possible in part by Morris Arts, can be viewed during business hours on weekdays through March 16, 2016, at the Morris County Administration and Records Building at 10 Court St. Admission is free.