GREGORY ADAMSON has developed an exceptional set of skills. For the past eight years, the Upland resident and former banker has been a performance painter at events, using brushes and his fingers to create artworks in a flash. The unusual vocation allows Adamson to combine his passion for art and his love for music, as he speedily paints portraits of icons such as Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe and Bob Marley to a rock ’n’ roll soundtrack, creating a 6-by-6-foot acrylic painting in just 14 minutes. He engages audiences further by painting the image upside down and spinning it for a captivating reveal when it’s complete.
“I’m the antidote to dull, dry events,” says Adamson. In the first seven months of 2014, he has entertained at 40 functions, from award dinners to outdoor concerts to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Midway’s deck in San Diego. Often his performance paintings are auctioned off on the same night to benefit the sponsor organization; he’s donated proceeds from his work to many nonprofits, including LA’s Architecture + Design Museum, MusicCares, the Leukemia Lymphoma Society and FRIENDS of Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.
Now in his mid-50s, Adamson was raised in rural South Dakota. He loved art classes as a child, but followed a more conventional path into banking, restricting his creative efforts to his off-hours. Before long, he began to perform as a chalk artist and became a regular at many of California’s street painting festivals. He says his life changed in 1999 when he saw the late artist Denny Dent—whom many credit with creating performance painting in action. “I made a pact with myself: I’m somehow going to learn how to do that,” Adamson says.
His first live performance, at a shopping mall (The Shops at Dos Lagos in Corona) in 2006, was received enthusiastically. At first, Adamson kept his banking career and art apart, but soon realized that his corporate clients thought his second gig “was pretty cool,” and his banking connections helped him land charity and corporate gigs. At events these days, he’s often asked to create custom portraits of an executive or special guest; he’s happy to comply, but says it helps if he’s given ample advance notice. Adamson also leads painting classes as a team-building exercise. “I take everyone through the steps and show them how to create a respectable painting,” he explains. The sessions, he says, “are not about rules, but about results.” The same could be said of his own boundary-pushing career.