Self-Portrait on Float
© Derrick Adams
Through an intimate exploration of Black normalcy, Derrick Adams captures an often overlooked aspect of Black lives—the everyday. Across multiple series, he has attempted to reconcile the nature of his own lived experiences with that of the popular imagery of Black people in media and art. Often finding that the historical record omits crucial elements of that experience, the artist, raised in Baltimore and now based in Brooklyn, has consciously chosen to fill those gaps with imagery of his own, rooted in his personal reality.
This woodblock is based on Adams’ painting Floater 80 (Self-Portrait). When Adams set out to create paintings of pool-themed recreation, he was surprised to find no related images online of people who looked like him. Delving deeper into his research, he discovered images of Martin Luther King Jr. relaxing on vacation with his wife Coretta and wondered why this side of the Civil Rights leader’s life is so little known to the general public.
Produced between 2016 and 2019, Adams Floaters series is a collection of vividly painted portraits of Black people in various states of rest and play, buoyantly floating on calm waters. This classically American iconography of people relaxing in water has been employed time and again in literature, film, and even commercial art, often signifying the carefree pleasures of life. The American Dream in physical form. But, when recontextualized through a more diverse lens, these sun-soaked figures can reveal a tangle of multifaceted human complexity.
To create this artwork, Adams collaborated with master printmakers and artisans from Tandem Press, who carved nearly 100 individual blocks of wood for thirty different colors and collaged gold leaf and paper fingernails onto each print.