What Matters: Cey Adams on the Art of Art-Making in Uncertain Times

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Debbie Millman has started a new project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an ongoing effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer 10 identical questions, and submit a photograph.

Up next: Cey Adams. As the creative director for Def Jam Recordings, he created visual identities, album covers, logos and advertising campaigns for Run DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. Adams exhibits, lectures and teaches art workshops at institutions including The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, Museum of the City of New York, Temple University and Walker Art Center.

© 1986 Gary Spector

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

More than anything else in the world … I enjoy making art and related things. Throughout my life, art-making has been the one constant. Painting, drawing, and now, sculpture, bring me so much joy when things seem uncertain.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

My earliest memory of being creative dates back to age 4 or 5, sitting at the kitchen table drawing images based on cereal box characters. Comics have also been a reference point for early art-making.

What is your biggest regret?

More than anything, I regret not pushing harder to learn more about who my parents were.

Asking more questions about what their “young” lives were like. Being more curious about their individual journeys.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

I’ve never experienced much heartbreak. I’m very fortunate to have always been surrounded by loving and nurturing people.

What makes you cry?

Anytime I think about the early days of being an artist and a single father raising a son in New York. It was beyond difficult in the early ’80s. During those times there was very little support coming from anywhere.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

Not much? I feel great for a while, then I’m reminded there’s always more work to be done or support of others that needs my attention.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I don’t really think about that …

What do you hate most about yourself?

I wish I had been more patient with my son when he was a child.

After studying and taking French and Spanish lessons for years … I never mastered either one.

I never fully overcame my fear of heights.

What do you love most about yourself?

I still believe in the power of possibilities.

I got to meet and spend time with Carole King and Bette Midler.

10 small donations are just as helpful …

I saved a 40-year-old polaroid by Andy Warhol of Keith Haring and me.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Fifteen years ago in Milan, I had a wonderful dish of tri-colored ravioli in a rich butter cream sauce!