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Cey Adams: "Departure: 40 Years of Art and Design” at University of North Texas

The UNT CVAD Galleries Presents “Cey Adams, Departure: 40 Years of Art and Design”

The exhibition examines visionary artist, cultural pioneer, and innovative designer Cey Adams’ of more than four decades creating the visual identities of some of Hip-Hop’s foundational acts, commercial collaborations with global brands, and his extensive contemporary fine art practice. This exhibition was organized by the Boston University Art Galleries, Boston, Mass.

Cey Adams sitting on a table. Photo by Robert Bredvad
Photo courtesy of Robert Bredvad

Denton, Texas – CVAD Galleries presents “CEY ADAMS, DEPARTURE: 40 Years of Art and Design” from Aug. 22 through Dec. 15, 2023, at the CVAD Gallery, curated by Liza Quiñonez of Street Theory, contemporary art and design agency. 

In a career milestone, the exhibition examines Cey Adams’ illustrious 40-year career as a visionary artist, cultural pioneer, and innovative designer. Adams has been at the forefront of multiple cultural art movements for over four decades. For only the second time ever, the highlights of his journey will be on display for all to see in Denton, Texas. A graffiti and design legend, Adams (American, 1962) honed his art skills by painting graffiti on the streets and trains of New York City in the late 1970s before moving downtown, where the street art was leaking into the city's high-end galleries. Like his pop art contemporaries of the time, Adams understood the power of images, media, and advertising. This position left him uniquely suited to give visual life to a new movement called Hip-Hop. 

Graffiti City painting by Cey Adams
Cey Adams, Graffiti City, Mixed media on panel / Original reproduction, 1980/2022. 

“CEY ADAMS, DEPARTURE: 40 Years of Art and Design” surveys Adam’s extensive practice, including paintings, mixed-media collage, graphic design, typography, logo design, and branding for Hip-Hop album covers, fashion apparel, books and magazines, large-scale murals, and global brand collaborations. 

“The pop culture recognizability of Cey Adams’ work is nostalgic and profound about historical and current hip hop culture and graffiti street art. Within his work — past and present — he consistently raises critical questions about consumerism, race, gender, class, history, and our values as a complex society, all of which are as relevant today as forty years ago,” said Dean Karen Hutzel, Ph.D., professor of Art Education at the UNT College of Visual Arts and Design.

With a return to his roots more than a decade ago, Adams explores his evolving art by combining his different disciplines through fine art and mixed media collages. In discovering unique solutions with creative problem-solving by using colorful curves, shapes, and letterforms, Cey Adams found his life’s passion evokes nostalgia while looking deeper into an effortlessly authentic Americana. 

The exhibition features Adams’ early career collections, studio work, collaborations, lifestyle products, and a Hot Wheels 3D sculpture. 

Hot Wheels
Cey Adams & Mattel Creations, Hot Wheels, 3D sculpture, 2022.

As an avid Hot Wheels collector and fan, Adams partnered with Mattel Creations to showcase a one-of-a-kind collaboration during his exhibition, “CEY ADAMS, Departure: 40 Years of Art and Design.” Adams reimagined the classic Hot Wheels logo using printed materials from Mattel’s archives, including catalogs, patents, ads and concept art from the 1960s and 70s, to create a 5-foot 3D sculpture. To celebrate the 2022 retrospective, Mattel Creations debuted a limited-edition Cey Adams & Hot Wheels diecast van inspired by Adams' iconic 'LOVE' murals.

Adams created the artwork to encourage the viewer to think and see beyond the surface and to promote positive conversation. The same vivid colors and graphic shapes in his murals are infused into the custom diecast van. 

Cey Adams X Levi's Eureka Innovation Lab, LOVE, custom embroidered trucker denim jacket
Cey Adams & Levi’s® Eureka Innovation Lab, LOVE, custom embroidered Levi’s® Trucker denim jacket, 2022.

Another collaboration is with Levi’s®, one of the world’s largest brand-name apparel companies and global leader in jeans wear. In the exhibition is “LOVE,” a custom denim trucker jacket created by Adams at Levi’s® Eureka Innovation Lab. 

The iconic Levi’s® trucker jacket features a chain-stitch embroidered LOVE design. The pieces are an homage to Adams’ graffiti days when he would hand paint designs on vintage Levi’s® apparel for his family and friends. The collaboration is a continuation of Adams and Levi’s® long-standing relationship. In recent years he worked with the brand on their Global Flagship Store Launch in Times Square NYC and Levi’s® Haus, a 43,000 square foot pop-up customization shop in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, open during Super Bowl LIII and Art Basel.

“CEY ADAMS, DEPARTURE: 40 Years of Art and Design” is on view at UNT’s CVAD Gallery from Aug. 22 through Dec. 15, 2023 — free admission and open to the public. 

About Cey Adams

Cey Adams
, a New York City native, emerged from the downtown graffiti movement to exhibit alongside fellow artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. He appeared in the historic 1982 PBS documentary “Style Wars,” which tracks subway graffiti in New York. Adams was creative director for Hip-Hop mogul Russell Simmons’ Def Jam Recordings, where he co-founded the Drawing Board, the label’s in-house visual design firm. While there, he created visual identities, album covers, logos, and advertising campaigns for Run DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Notorious B.I.G., Maroon 5, and Jay-Z. 

He exhibits, lectures, and teaches art workshops at institutions, including The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, Museum of the City of New York, New York University, Temple University, MoCA Los Angeles, Stamford University, Howard University, among others. He co-authored “DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop” (Harper-Collins); designed “Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label” (Rizzoli); and designed the “Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap” (Smithsonian/Folkways), a box set including a 300-page book and nine CD set.

Cey’s work explores the relationship between transformation and discovery. His practice involves dismantling various imagery and paper elements to build multiple layers of color, texture, shadow, and light. Cey draws inspiration from 1960s pop art, vintage sign painting, and comics. His work focuses on pop culture, race and gender relations, cultural and community issues and other themes. He has collaborated with many global brands, including IDEO, Apple, Levi’s®, Foot Locker, Converse, Pabst Blue Ribbon, YouTube, and Google. 

Instagram: @ceyadams

Exhibition Details

Exhibition Dates
Aug. 22–Dec. 15, 2023

CVAD Gallery
1201 W. Mulberry St, Denton, TX 76201 | UNT Art Building, Room 160

Gallery Hours
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday: Noon–5 p.m.
Thursday: Fall & Spring: Noon–8 p.m.

Free Admission
All exhibitions and gallery events are free and open to the public.