Adam Reynolds

Sculptor who defied his disability
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The Independent Online

Anyone meeting the artist Adam Reynolds for the first time could not help but be struck by two imposing and perhaps contradictory characteristics. Like his elder brother Mark, he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy soon after birth, leaving him with a physical disability that would challenge the strongest of constitutions. As soon as one started to talk to him, however, any awkwardness evaporated with the glistening of his eyes and his roguish, engaging and ever-present smile. He lived a full and creative life as a sculptor, curator, teacher and arts adviser, until his unexpected death at the age of 45.

Reynolds grew up in the Buckinghamshire countryside, his family providing the stimulating and supportive environment that would enable him to develop his interests and form his resolute character. At Sussex University, where he studied European history ("from Genesis to Tintin", as he put it) he met Isabelle King, his future wife and mother to his two daughters, Matilda and Kitty, and in whom he found the support and challenge to enable him to live a complete life. To further his creative interests he went on to study sculpture at the Sir John Cass School of Art, which, combined with his interest in history, formed the locus of much of his later work and where he started to formulate ideas for his future career.

In 1984 he opened the pioneering, artist-run Adam Gallery. A wedge-shaped, labyrinthine ex-cobbler's shop in Walcot Square, south London, it was to serve as home, studio and gallery. It was very Adam, the antithesis of the White Cube - no right angles, no house style, not a career opportunity for the ambitious, just a space for artists with serious intent and a spirit of exploration to inhabit with their work. Even allowing for the support from loyal artists and friends, a remarkable programme of 10 solo shows and one group exhibition a year made it a testament to Reynolds's energy and enthusiasm up until the eventual closure of the gallery in 1997.

During this time, Reynolds's work developed two distinct strands, the public and the private. Reflecting his earlier interest in history, the solo exhibitions "Beyond Alchemy", at the Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, in 1990, "Dig" at the Adam Gallery, 1991, and "Flowering Up", Buckinghamshire County Museum and Art Gallery, 1996, took an almost archaeological fascination with retrieving and cataloguing and extending the life of found fragments from his surroundings.

In a wry commentary on the questionable nature of the meaning of such archaeological practices, he created Relics, an installation at the Zest Pharmacy in Soho, London, in 2003. Wooden trays were stacked with glass phials filled with samples collected on his wanderings around the area: tiny flowers plucked from Carnaby Street, scrapings of paint from windows and lampposts.

He was also increasingly commissioned to create larger-scale work for public spaces. Whereas the collections were very much about his private fascinations, these public works were on a more monumental scale, created to enhance the users' experience of the site and reflecting elemental symmetries found within medieval history. Typical of these, Out There, commissioned by Frimley Park Hospital in 2001, consists of three forms within an internal courtyard: a 10ft-diameter steel ring suspended in space (a resonance trap reflecting sky and earth); a four-sided, mist-filled, pyramid lit from below that responds to changes in atmospheric temperature; and an open steel cube the top of which is a shallow glass pool through which the flow of water can be regulated in order to fluctuate the ripples flowing above one's head.

From 1990 to 1997 Adam Reynolds was Chair (and, until his death, a trustee) of Shape, the innovative arts development agency working with disabled and other disadvantaged groups. From 1987, too, he was a workshop tutor and disability consultant to museums, galleries and organisations around the country, including the Tate Gallery, Camden Arts Centre, National Museums of Scotland and the Corporation of London.

He died two days before he was to perform a new work, Sisyphus, a collaboration with Signdance Collective, Jefford Horrigan, Terry Smith and Christopher Shanks, outside Tate Modern in London. In the press release, Reynolds tells how Sisyphus was condemned to roll a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down each time it reached the top; he described him as "the perpetual victim of arbitrary justice". Reynolds himself - known and loved by so many people, his flippant disregard for his circumstance a lesson to all who complain - will, on the other hand, always be remembered as the victor over arbitrary injustice.

Rob Kesseler

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