Antonio Adams' little brother was killed a couple weeks ago. Deion was his name. He was twenty years old. Bill and I went to his funeral yesterday, along with Thunder-Sky, Inc. regulars Emily Brandehoff and Mike Weber and his sister and brother-in-law, Christine and Bob. It was in a beautiful red-brick church, and the service truly touched me. We barely knew Deion, but it was that proximity to our lives that somehow made the whole thing so deep and so sad. Back when we first met Antonio and fell in love with his artwork, Deion and his twin brother Faizon were always ready to jump on the band-wagon when we stopped by their house to pick up Antonio and/or his work up for art-shows. They were just little kids, sweet and funny, and as time went by we watched them grow up. We weren't really involved that much in their lives or anything, but still you get to know people in ways you don't understand until they are gone in that way, peripherally, not paying attention and yet their image and spirit kind of sneak into your consciousness. Deion and Faizon would sometimes show up at events or just help us carry one or two of Antonio's cats out to the car. They both were always extra-excited and polite and kind.
Deion was shot nine times in Avondale. The service was open casket. He and Faizon were wearing the same outfit, ball caps and purple shirts.
The moment I keep returning to during the service is when Antonio's mom asked him to come up to the pulpit during the ceremony to talk. Antonio's mom is an incredible person too, dealing with a lot of stuff but always supporting Antonio and her other kids with enthusiasm and energy and focus. Antonio stepped up to the podium, took hold of the microphone, and he said some really simple but incredibly profound words about being a brother and what it means and how family has to stick together and he was going to remain positive because that is what you have to do.
His art is that simple and that profound too.
Attached to the inside of the lid of the casket were a couple drawings Antonio did for Deion. The drawings depicted Antonio and his whole family in his signature style: magic-marker stately, candy-colored resplendent, like royalty transformed into holy cartoon tableau. Toward the end of the service, they closed the casket lid with the drawings still inside. You could tell from the look on his face that was the way Antonio intended it: those drawings are his connection to both an afterlife and a sense of remembering without having to go into it too much, a pictograph of better times imagined because he had to imagine a way out of sorrow. He drew them to keep Deion company. He drew them to depict what family actually is supposed to mean. He created art as a bridge toward other ways of thinking and being, a way to celebrate without understanding why or when or what or how.
As he spoke up there you could see how peaceful his art had allowed him to become. Not that he was ignoring what was happening, but that he had somehow mastered his response to this horrible thing that happened because he was always trying to figure out how to make art out of his life. It was as if the artmaking he has been doing his whole life had somehow been about that moment in that church, standing there above his dead brother, letting everyone know what brotherhood actually means.
Antonio is probably my favorite artist because he does not mess around. Because he has a wide open sense of humor, a stellar instinct for composition and line, a beautifully recognizable style and sensibility, and an extremely sophisticated and funky imagination. He can find humor and ecstasy in just about any situation. He can also translate tragedy into telepathy and triumph. He uses art to figure out how to get through, and that helps everybody else come closer to that understanding too.