Pietro Adamo was born in the diverse, working class Toronto neighborhood of Christie Pitts, in May of 1955. Growing up “ acceptance and tolerance were no brainers”, as everyone was from some place else. A decade later his family would move to the suburbs of Toronto, a drastic change for the young Adamo. Needing to adjust to what at the time was a very Anglo environment. A stark contrast to his early childhood. Needless to say 1960’s Canada was a different place: “my friends were referring to me as Pete or Peety when they weren’t calling me Pizza”. Eventually the winds of change that blew in with the 1960’s would sow the seeds of multiculturalism in Canada. By seventh grade a young Adamo was already showing true promise as an artist. “Sketching and colouring were comfort activities for me. I had taken greater solace in art after being hit by a car in late 1964.” This life altering experience would prove to be a monumental influence on the young artist.
In a recent interview Adamo describes this event:
“ My father owned a grocery store at the intersection where I was hit. It was a slightly wet, cool December night when I slipped between two parked cars thinking the coast was clear. I’ll never forget the car: 1957 azure blue Pontiac with a chrome grille as massive as a whale. The driver was devastated as he rushed to help me. Luckily, he was not speeding so I survived the ordeal with no major damage save for a chipped front tooth as a result of my slipping and falling. A crowd had gathered and I remember a feeling of numbness. Not so much physical, but like a single note at the end of a symphony. At the hospital, the doctors used humour and background music by the newest sensation (Beatles) to keep me from perhaps screaming or breaking down. Everyone around me , including my emotional Italian parents were cool, calm and collected (my guess is that they had been briefed). I was sent home. No harm done. I had some trouble sleeping that night, but exhaustion overcame me. Again, it was 1964. Concussions, Depression, Anxiety, PTSD -these terms had practically not even been invented yet !”
By his early teens Adamo was spending more time in Montreal with family. With the arrival of Expo 67 , “I saw THE FUTURE. I saw MODERN. I experienced the fashion, the new ideas, the new art (it did not look like anything I had ever seen!). There to party, but I absorbed so much more.” At the time Montreal was arguably Canada’s most progressive city, artists like Riopelle, Molinari and Snow began to shape the young Adamo. Expanding his mind beyond representation and towards Expression!
The wild explosion of self expression of the sixties was all around him. “ It all seemed to go off the rails at once”. By the 1970’s the “Mannerist phase” had completely taken over. “The orderly revolution of the Beatles,Herman’s Hermits and the Byrds gave way to the sonic acid trip led by the Stones, Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Depending on which way you looked at it, it was either Hell and back, or straight to the stars and beyond. I preferred the latter.”
Adamo would embrace the explosion of colour in fashion during the early seventies( albeit on a strict budget). Hot pink and purple, acid green and cherry red, cobalt blue and blinding yellow, bathed in this mind altering chroma that would play a major role in the artists later use of colour. “Courage. That’s what colour meant to me. It took courage to be a colour in a black and white world.” Much of Adamo’s high school years were spent working a plethora of part-time jobs, in supermarkets, grocery stores and garages. “ I scarcely remember the time in class. I was resigned to the fact that I would be working in a grocery store ( nothing wrong with that, by the way).”
Adamo spent much of his time in the art room. It was a place where he felt “needed”. It was there in his refuge , where a simple tap on the shoulder, would begin to awaken the abstract artist in him. “ I will refer to my high school Art Teacher as Miss. S. I was serving detention when she tapped me on the shoulder and whispered: You can do what you want, but I’ve always thought of you as University bound- you have the gift- you should consider teaching Art. Believe in yourself. Stay in school. Finish grade 13. Peter, you know you’ve got the smarts - it’s crunch time. Buckle down next year. ” He did!
Adamo would find his years at U of T and Sheridan College challenging and rewarding. The futuristic confines of the campus at Sheridan with it’s open industrial style of architecture, to the brutalist buildings of downtown Toronto and York U., Adamo was in his element. “I wanted to immerse myself in to the History of Art, and learn about the world through it’s art and architecture. I had the ”Expo” feeling again. I was in the future.”
The second tap on his shoulder came in a third -year painting class. “ The assignment was clear. I had been working on the piece for a week. The canvas was red , grey and ochre, and it clearly showed a stylized bullfighter in a cloud of wild colour. Helen Lucas ( Acclaimed Canadian Artist) quietly whispered to me: You know, you’ve really got something special- if only you’d let go of the object. It doesn’t have to be about something, Pietro. It can just be. I repeat those words every time I start a canvas. Let it be.”
Adamo would go on to teach the visual arts for 20 years from 1978 to 1998. ” I could have stayed comfortably in a place with my role as a teacher, but then I would not have been able to correct a certain student who claimed that those who can’t do- teach. I quickly learned that in order to be an effective teacher of art, one had to park the proverbial artist at the door. A most difficult separation of roles, I must say. To that end, I’m sure many art teachers have had to “moonlight” as artists. I did”
In 1980 Adamo had begun showing work at Gallery 133, a working relationship that still exists to this day. “It was not the venue for my first show, but it is the gallery of my heart. It is the gallery where I heard the term ” good mench“, in the same sentence as Pietro Adamo. I am deeply honoured and continue to treasure our relationship.” By 1998 Adamo’s art career had taken off and he decided to take a Sabbatical for a year, or so he thought. The upcoming New York Art Expo was on the horizon and it seemed to be a promising year for the artist.
Fast forward to the present. “ I have not stepped into a classroom since 1998. It’s not that I don’t like it- it’s just that I have not had the time. I have been too busy being, I dare say: an artist. You see, I never left teaching, in a sense. Judging from the countless emails over the years, so many have been inspired by my work. Humbling indeed. I am grateful every single day, for that EXPO FEELING.”
-J.M. Centeno (curator)