Adelaide Tai (Photos by Isadora Pennington)

“It feels like a dream,” said artist Adelaide Tai. Working as an independent artist for the past six years, she has ventured beyond getting by to truly thriving. As she sat perched atop a bench and backlit by large picture windows in a friend’s living room transformed into a temporary studio, Tai appeared to glow in the late afternoon light. On the day that I visited her, she was working on a new painting, and I was lucky enough to watch it transform from blank canvas to ephemeral composition. 

Tai is a Taiwanese American artist who has been making paintings since she can remember. She had her first solo exhibition in 2015 after leaving a draining career as an art consultant and quickly found her footing as an independent artist. Today she splits her time between her apartment in Los Angeles and bouncing around with various friends in Atlanta who allow her to create her paintings in their homes. She’s actively sourcing a studio here so she can create large scale works. Her pieces are predominantly commissions or created for exhibitions with galleries that represent her.

Working with watercolor inks, enamel, and epoxy resin among other liquid mediums, her pieces embody movement and embrace texture in evocative abstract compositions. Her process usually begins with deciding a color palette, and sometimes the ideas come to her while she’s asleep. Future Medicine, her recent body of work that was released in April, was inspired by a dream. She then composed smaller studies and practice pieces before returning to Atlanta to complete the finished works. Tai says she enjoys the playfulness of painting and pushes herself by adding new mediums and experimenting with textures within a defined color palette for her works. 

“It’s kind of like a moving meditation,” Tai said of her process. “I recently described painting as running, especially with the medium that I use, because it’s time sensitive. You only have so long of a window before the paint or the resin starts getting tacky and you really can’t manipulate it anymore. So, it’s like a sprint or a jog where you just have to keep going and you kind of get in a rhythm or a flow and you can’t slow down. The constraints kind of force you to stay present.”

On the day that I visited she was starting a new painting. I watched as she mixed pigments, holding the bottles of paint up to the light and considering them with solemnity before thoughtfully pouring and distributing them across the canvas. Her demeanor shifted to serious and contemplative as she worked, her eyes studying the piece with a devotion that called me to keep my thoughts to myself so as not to interrupt the process. Once the paint was poured and radiating out across the surface, she moved around the piece and used a paintbrush to gently coax the edges towards one another, overlapping or stopping just short of touching other colors. The vibrant paints were rich, moody, and dimensional. Music played softly in the background and otherwise the room was silent, punctuated only by the gentle movement of her brush and the clicking of my camera shutter as we circled around the piece before her that was in the midst of becoming. 

In addition to her career as a painter, Tai is also a singer and songwriter. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, she was the headliner of a group called Lady Clementine’s Fantastic Party, later shortened to Clementine’s Party. The Atlanta-based ensemble produced a sort of “surfy” rock sound with melodies reminiscent of dreamy pop music from days gone by. 

“I was so sad because we had some really fun and exciting things lined up. We were going to play our first festival and had some music almost ready to release, but it just stopped, and it was really disappointing. It did make me reevaluate where I’m trying to go with music, and I realized that I wanted to start something fresh.” She is currently working with producers and musician friends to produce a project simply under her name, Adelaide. She hopes to debut a new, fresh project in the coming months.  

“My family is really creative,” said Tai of her upbringing. “I think everyone is creative; I think being alive and being a spirit in a body means that you’re creative. But definitely my family culture cultivated that practice in me.” She shared that her entire extended family embraces music and told me of the music-filled summer gatherings and holidays that she didn’t realize were not the norm for every family. 

“My dad plays many instruments and grew up playing the piano. On my mom’s side of the family, everyone plays an instrument or sings. I didn’t realize that it was not normal, I thought that was what every family did. It wasn’t actually until recently that I realized that music isn’t a main point of gathering for every family. Every Christmas, every summer, anytime we get together with extended family it just turns into a jam session,” said Tai.

I found it interesting that while Tai has grown up in a setting that is positively saturated with music, she says that she rarely sings or participates when her family performs. Why? Because “everyone is just so good,” she said with a laugh. Admittedly, at times she faces her own feelings of inadequacy or imposter syndrome, and it has taken some time to become comfortable with the fact that she is indeed a working artist who earns her money from art. 

“I feel like I’m healing ancestral wounds of suppressing creative energy,” said Tai, noting that while virtually everyone in her family is an artist or musician in some way, none of them have pursued those creative passions as a means of earning a living. It is still expected that everyone has a reliable source of income in the form of a standard 9 to 5 job, something which Tai has been grateful to be able to avoid since she first embarked on her creative career. “[My ancestors] couldn’t imagine that being a way to support themselves or their families, but things are different now.” 

Indeed, things are different for Tai these days. With enough large commissions to keep her busy and fund her lifestyle, she has cultivated the ability to split her time between LA where the atmosphere, energy, and setting inspire and push her and Atlanta, the small-town-big-city that still feels like home with a community that continues to embrace her. 

To see more of her artwork, check out her website at hiadelaide.com and her Instagram. If you’d like to get a taste of her music, you can go to Clementine’s Party on YouTube at www.shorturl.at/jIKPW and stay tuned for the new music which will be released under just her name, Adelaide Tai. 

Isadora Pennington

Isadora Pennington is a writer and photographer based in Atlanta.