Mixing Art and Faith, Jonathan Kent Adams Shows unique vision
by Beau Brawner | firstname.lastname@example.org
May 8, 2017
May 8, 2017
A queer creator is not afraid to paint on walls and try new things; to fall asleep dissatisfied with that work, and then wake the next morning to see something beautiful that wasn’t there before. For Jonathan Kent Adams finding this beauty flowered from two of his greatest passions: art and faith.
Jonathan grew up in Yazoo City, the “Gateway to the Delta,” a town nestled between the slight green hills of central Mississippi and the flat farmlands to the west. It was here among the humid entrance to the soul of American Rock n’ Roll where he began to explore his own .
Raised as a Catholic, Adams felt a natural connection with God develop not in a church, but in quiet moments as a child reading his bible alone and spending time with his grandmother. To him, she represented the very best of Christianity. Yet what he learned about his relationship with God was uniquely inspired and intensely personal.
“I saw a need in myself for something other than me,” he said. “No one taught me that.”
In the same way that his connection with God developed naturally at a young age, his path to painting began when he was 11-years-old. He sang patriotic anthems to veterans in Mississippi, performed the National Anthem at Ole Miss and even made a CD.
“I saw them receive joy and healing through me using myself,” Jonathan said brightly.
Seeing the joy that creating art could bring to others would become one of the most important drives in his life. After high school, Jonathan moved to Oxford to study at the University of Mississippi, hoping to become a public defendant. He was involved in the campus ministry group, Young Life. Everything was going according to his plans until he took a single art elective. He fell in love, alone, in the studios at Meek Hall after everyone else had left, Jonathan began to make art again. His professor noticed and pushed him to take more art classes.
“In those moments, that’s when I decided this is what I want to do,” he said. “I get my own joy from being there, painting. It was almost like worship in a way. To be creating.”
As he was coming into his own as an artist yet another plan changed: Jonathan was removed from his position as the Volunteer Leader at Young Life following his acknowledgement that he was a gay Christian.
“The leader thought that parents would be uneasy that a gay person was with their sons which is a big misconception; that just because you’re gay you’re going to molest children” Adams said. “A lot of other leaders stuck up for me and remained my friends, but that was really hard. I was really depressed. They were my family, people that I spent most of my two or three years of college building relationships with. That was hard.”
Young Life leadership in Oxford did not respond when asked for a comment.
This was not the first time he struggled with his own sexuality and faith.
“That started an undoing of the way I had seen myself, things I had told myself, things I had believed. All of that undoing has not been an easy process,” Jonathan said. “When you have a young person of 12 praying most nights ‘God I don’t want to be attracted to these guys around me’ and you go from 12 to 20 doing that a lot - then one day trying to change your perspective.”
Self-acceptance has taken time for the young artist. He reached out to those familiar with issues of faith, specifically professors on campus, who recommended books to help deepen his understanding of religion and sexuality. During an internship in New York City, Adams saw a gay couple in the congregation of a Catholic church he attended that summer. After years of searching for how to reconcile what seemed like an impossible intersection, he found the perfect example of why faith and the LGBTQ community are not mutually exclusive.
“There are still times I struggle with thinking like that,” he smiled wryly. “But then I remember this is who you are Nathan, calm down.”
Following advice from a former professor, Jonathan now makes time to paint every single day, even if he ends up hating it in the moment, ripping up collages, or angrily pacing back and forth looking for the perfect addition to a canvas or a wall.
“The best days were when I was not inspired, but I got caught in what I was doing and created something I liked,” he observed. “I think consistency is very important in how I make my work. There’s no pressure - you’re just making a painting because it’s what you love. If one of your paintings becomes a great painting it will do that on its own time. I’m just there to use my body to make the painting and that’s all I can do.”
He now uses himself - as a human, as an artist and as a member of the LGBTQ community - as the ultimate tool for creating and advancing discussions that cover his relationship with God, the nature of life, how society views sexuality, and perhaps most importantly the beauty inherent in human beings.
“I hope that my existence as a gay artist, living here and having a normal life, starts more of a discussion than a single painting,” he said. “I do want to start discussions.”
Jonathan found those discussions grow quickly around his art in Oxford. One project that was completed for his thesis included a twist on Michelangelo's classic Pieta, with his boyfriend Blake holding him, the two making a statement on faith and art. Another, following the Pulse Nightclub shooting in the summer of 2016, led Jonathan to create a tribute for every victim that included an excerpt about who they were and what they meant to those around them.
His local celebrity status has gained the attention of several different local publications including features from: Dime Magazine in Hattiesburg, MS, Jarry, a Brooklyn area magazine, and appeared in the 2016 Oxford Film Festival. Jonathan was voted "Best Artist in Oxford" for The Local Voice in 2016.
“Hopefully when you see my work, you don’t think sex, you think person,” He said. “You may relate it back to me as a gay person, but I don’t want that to be what my work is about - and I hope that’s what viewers take away.”
Today Jonathan finds exhibits around the United States, from Miami to his home in Oxford, looking for ways to open discussions, challenge ideas, and express how he feels in the best way he can. He will present a new exhibit titled
Flesh and Spirit, centered on life, death, and nature on May 12th in Water Valley at the Living Room Gallery.