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Graffiti is impetus and inspiration for this Maine artist

Ryan Adams has been working as a muralist and artist for more than a decade after getting his start with a spray can.

PORTLAND, Maine — UPDATE: Ryan Adams' most recent mural can be seen hanging on the outside of the Portland Museum of Art. It will be there for the month of March. 

When Ryan Adams was 10-years-old, an after-school teacher changed his life when she gave him a copy of 'Subway Art', a book that chronicles the graffiti art of the 70s and 80s in New York City. He was hooked. 

"It just totally blew my mind ... I had so many questions like who does this? How does it happen?" remembers Adams. 

His mother fostered her sons' budding interest buying him 99 cent spray cans and plywood to practice in the backyard. As he got older, the native Portlander began to explore the city with a spray can. The allure of doing something he wasn't supposed to mingle with the desire to get better, pushed him to create. Adams remembers spending a lot of time as a teen at the Free Wall, where graffiti art was and still is welcomed. 

Credit: contributed
Portland artist Ryan Adams

In 2009, Binga's Sports Bar on Congress Street had a fire. The doors were boarded up, and where most saw a construction site, Adams saw a canvas. With the permission of the owners he decorated it and his eye-catching art caught attention. His creation ended up on the cover of a local magazine and the owners asked Adam to paint the inside of their restaurant. Adams was floored. 

"I had no idea it was a marketable thing that people wanted it because painting graffiti it's so personal and also 98% of the population hates it," Adams says with a smile.

It was his first paid job. 

Over the last decade Adams has been hustling; working in an office as an account manager and spending nights and weekends trying to get his art business off the ground. In February of 2020, he decided to dive in, quitting the security of his office job to pursue his passion full-time. Two weeks later the pandemic hit. He was terrified but with a lot of sweat and determination, the father of two has been pulling it off. 

Credit: contributed
Portland artist Ryan Adams

Adams designs can art for a brewery in Virginia, he co-owns a sign business, creates fine art, and has murals across Maine along the east coast.

His signature look,  what he calls a gem style, is inspired by graffiti with standard block letterforms and geometric shapes that highlight and embellish words. It's also a slang on 'dropping gems' or knowledge, which viewers will find in spades in his art, often laced with positive sayings like, "Be Sure," "Never Give Up," or "Just Keep Swimming."

But not all of his art is whimsical and light-hearted. 

This summer after the death of George Floyd, Adams says he felt obliged to join his voice in the national conversation. With the help of a few friends, Adams created a mural of George Floyd in Portland. 

Credit: contributed
Portland artist Ryan Adams

Currently, he's teamed up with his artist wife, Rachael Adams, to highlight community members in Portland who are working or have worked to make the city prosper. It's called Piece Together. Adams loves Portland, the place he was born and raised, and choices to rear his own children. He says he wants to honor those who have worked to make it great. 

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