Out On Top

Brainworks: Erin Adams

If you’ve leafed through a celebrity magazine, watched network television, gone to Las Vegas or visited a well-heeled California home, you’ve seen the work of Erin Adams. She may be the most ubiquitous installation artist in the United States and the most unknown. Her 20-year-old firm, Brainworks, doesn’t bear her name, and there is no bio on her website.

“It isn’t about me being famous,” says Adams, 47. “It’s about this work being out there and sort of surrounding you.”

Building on an early-childhood art education led by nuns—“they were very helpful,” Adams laughs —Adams specialized in installation work at Otis Art Institute. It never felt inevitable to her that she would starve for her art, as so many of her peers assumed (and did themselves). Now, with her commercial art company Brainworks, she works for prominent clients who want her backdrops, decorative paintings, and original sets featured in their photography shoots, restaurants, television shows and homes. ABC, Vince Vaughn, Lily Tomlin and Kathy Najimy have all asked Adams for her work, and Caesar’s Palace hotel mall in Las Vegas bears Adams’s stately, ancient Roman designs.

“It’s been really fun not having a boring job. It’s different every day,” Adams says. A recent client was Dolly Parton, who wanted her home “…very southwest looking. A lot of bright colors. She likes it all pink and cute. It’s fun.”

In Los Angeles, a place Adams credits for “constantly remaking itself,” Brainworks is never at a loss for high-profile clients. It also leaves her time for some large-scale hobbies. Adams restored a cathedral in Los Angeles’ historic Adams District, and the city keeps her on the historic landmark list for future projects.