Mark Adams takes another step on his artistic journey as the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod’s 2023 Artist of the Year.
by Jennifer Sperry
Is there anything he can’t do? Painter, cartographer, environmentalist, scientist, educator, writer, changemaker—Mark Adams, 69, has accomplished a lot. Most recently, he added to his extensive résumé by being named the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod’s 2023 Artist of the Year.
A Provincetown resident, Adams is the award’s second-ever recipient, following painter Jo Hay in 2022. The honor recognizes a Cape-based artist whose work shapes thought, inspires change, and creates a deeper sense of connection in the community.
“Mark is the perfect choice for this recognition because he continuously demonstrates the impact art can have in connecting us to the world around us,” says the foundation’s Executive Director Julie Wake. “His work reminds us of our shared responsibility in protecting the natural environment, both for today and for future generations.”
Originally from Chicago, Adams studied ecology, biology, landscape architecture, printmaking, and photography at the University of California, Berkeley. Among other jobs, including wildlife field biologist, forest firefighter, and scientific illustrator, he worked for the National Park Service for 30 years as a cartographer. Not surprisingly, he incorporates maps into his work as well as mylar, personal notebook pages (accumulated from extensive travels), text, animals, and people.
“My most comfortable medium is watercolor,” says Adams. “I love the idea of overlaying drawing and painting, using watercolors, pastels, acrylics, oils, and ink. I like seeing how certain materials resist the brush and how others absorb the color.”
The artist’s layered compositions combine mapping, text, and painting in thought-provoking ways. Executed on stretched canvas, wood panels, and vintage charts, his poignant compositions explore topics of nature, the environment, and the role of humans—both in the natural world and as part of organized societies.
Most recently, Adams has been exploring the concepts of migration and immigration. “I started out as an environmentalist, and I’ve studied the migration of various animals, but people also migrate if the need arises,” he asserts. “Just like animals, they journey to find refuge and a better life.” Ultimately, he is challenging preconceptions and assumptions about who and what belongs where.
While Adams has traveled extensively, and lived in California, England, Boston, and Martha’s Vineyard, he fell in love with the Outer Cape in 1991 and hasn’t left since. He felt drawn to the region’s sense of community, particularly among artists, and to the dichotomy of how the towns feel small and yet are so culturally rich. During his time on-Cape, he has taught at some of the peninsula’s finest art organizations and is currently the Center for Coastal Studies’ first-ever Scientist/Artist-in-Residence.