Adam Palmeter is a busy man. When he’s not hosting open-mics, organising the Saigon Skill art showcase, or deciding which of his thousand identical NY baseball caps to wear each day, Adam makes vivid, abstract-expressionist art. Adam’s newest project, In Stalls, pushes Adam’s work forward not just in execution, but by a unique choice of gallery available to the fine public of Saigon.
Palmeter is a self taught artist with his roots in the New York scene (evident in his grassroots approach to both his work and his marketing.) He found his signature style while living in Seoul, working with ink and chopsticks. This gave Adam’s early work bold, black lines, with an endearing and unpredictable scruffiness from the bleeding ink. Adam’s early work focused on urban skylines, offering a new twist on a common theme and using his ex-pat experiences and time abroad as a source of inspiration.
Adam’s art has followed a clear expressionist trajectory since then. It’s worth looking at Adam’s visual art as one part of his creative skillset. While Saigon comedy regulars will know Adam (one of the finalists at the recent Magners Comedy competition) as a perennial host and stand-up, others will recognize him from appearances at freestyle nights such as Saigon Cypher, or as the host and curator of the excellent Saigon Skill, which just celebrated its third iteration at La Canalla.
“The pattern I use is consistent in each stroke,” explains Adam – “it creates a continuous form of non-conforming art.” Although the pattern is repeated, Palmeter’s brushstrokes are not, so the paintings are immersive without being repetitive, coherent without being stale. While Adam is describing his visual art, the same holds true for his other creative outlets. The link is a kind of controlled demolition – Adam’s tangential yet self-assured style that builds satisfying completion from chaotic elements.
There’s a gentle “fuck you” to a lot of Palmeter’s work that further strengthens the choice of location for In Stalls. Bathroom art is necessarily confrontational, but it’s the skill of the artist that moves Adam’s work from intrusive to immersive.
Toilets are a part of any bar, cubicles a part of a night out. James Joyce took pleasure in not turning away from depictions of scatology (certainly not in his erotic letters to Nora), by reminding us of the facts of our existence – that between small talk and anecdotes in dimly lit bars, we take turns in creeping away into bathrooms, repeating the same processes from infancy to senility.
The flattering lights and decor of the bars where we allow ourselves to exist publicly are never far from our basic needs. Just as good comedy prods at the uncomfortable truths that lie beneath our conscious mind, bathroom art reminds us that we are all identical in our essential biology, but also united in our ability to appreciate and celebrate art. If you use bathrooms, you are part of Palmeter’s intended audience, and not knowing about the project in advance will likely add to the effect of being suddenly immersed in colour.
Painting on bathroom walls makes Palmeter part of a tradition dating back thousands of years. Bathroom art (or “Latrinalia” if you really, really want) has invited plenty of academic scrutiny, mostly as a form of “authentic expression”, without concern for glory, personal recognition, or commercial success. Like anonymous image boards online, content is offered up as-is, confrontational and present, inviting discourse, disgust and delight in equal measure.
Bathrooms evoke a buried instinct to paint, write, daub and scrawl onto the walls around us. In a report on prehistoric examples of bathroom graffiti, some of the first recorded marks made by man were examples of “modifying, marking over and scratching out art.” The author of The Nature of Paleolithic Art, one Dale Guthrie, solemnly tells us that “most common cave art is male and female body parts or faces.”
Whether it’s a Freudian excretory instinct or a response to un-nerving solitude, something about bathrooms makes us desire to leave our mark. Bathrooms are havens of imagined privacy, painted with a thin lacquer of shame. We go there out of necessity, for maintenance, for lines off toilet seats, for cramped encounters and psychological self-help talks. In these intimate, isolated and vulnerable spaces, we also find ourselves confined, fundamentally alone with ourselves and forced to engage with whatever mode of expression the previous occupants have chosen to leave their own mark.
For this project, the stall walls are the canvas and the art, form and function. As Palmeter explains – “you aren’t just looking at a square of art – you’re surrounded by it. You literally have no choice but to be engaged full on. You need a series of head turns just to see it all.”
Palmeter’s project turns toilets runs into submarine missions into his work. Bathroom art forces engagement when the viewer is in a liminal state – immersed in the basic toiletness of a bathroom stall – a utilitarian space designed to discourage fun. Many bar bathrooms are examples of hostile design, made to avoid congregation and lingering, the fluorescent lights and exposed pipes pushing you to do your business and get back to spending money at the bar – the stall an unfortunate yet necessary concession to human biology.
In Stalls and other bathroom art projects are an expansive footnote to Duchamp’s notorious Fountain, functioning as both rebellion against the ugliness of toilet cubicles and expectations of when and where we should engage with art. With time, Palmeter’s intricate patterns may become a faded backdrop for a new generation’s drawings, but that’s the point – it’s a cubicle, not the Louvre.
Anyone intrigued by Adam’s approach to art is hopefully already aware of the Saigon Skill showcase, an injection of artistic variety into the veins of the Saigon art scene. But one of the perks of Palmeter is that on any given week, you are likely to encounter his work – on a Fuzzy Logic t-shirt, a ceramic mug, and now in the bathrooms of Più Più, La Fenetre, Broma, and KoKois.
More installations are planned, but for now, enjoy what Adam has contributed to the city, and look out for his one man show Rule of Three at Giant Step gallery on the 16th March, where Adam will be presenting an entirely new series of work. Like I said, a busy man.
Adam also holds the unique distinction of having recorded the very first commercially available comedy album recorded live in Vietnam. “Better Teacher’s” is available at https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/adampalmeter
Adam’s official website is adampalmeter.com. Photos by Eric Keeping.