Bobby Adams, a 69-year old flea market dealer raised in Dundalk, never expected to see his art in a museum. Now Adams, a self-taught photographer, writer and mixed-media artist, is seeing his creative output with new eyes at “The Big Hope Show,” which opened this month at the American Visionary Art Museum. Rebecca Hoffberger, the museum’s director, discovered Adams through another Baltimore original, John Waters. Adams, a hippie in the late 1960s, fell in with the young filmmaker and his renegade collaborators. “Pink Flamingos” was filmed at the Phoenix, Maryland farm where Adams was living. His photographs of those outsider days seem particularly at home at AVAM, the haven for intuitive visionary artists who thrive outside of society’s conventions.
Adams’ exuberance takes shape in kitschy assemblages, obsessive scrapbooking, mischievous collaged Christmas cards and elaborate collections of talismans of popular culture, all created in his bungalow in Bowleys Quarters. Many of the pieces are conceived as gifts for friends, because Adams’ life, mirrored in his art, is as much about the act of giving as it is about the object itself. For Adams, an astute observer of life’s ironies, connecting with others is transformative. His favorite motto is, “I came seeking friendship, instead I found love.”
Adams, who is by turns gregarious and reflective, has successfully overcome the traumas of a harsh father, a mother who committed suicide, and a compulsive overeating disorder. Yet his work, Hoffberger says, “teaches us that friendship and loving is a high art that reaps great and beautiful rewards.” Bobby Adams will be one of the honorees, for his artistic merit, at AVAM’s 20th anniversary gala on Sunday, November 21.