Clinton Adams was born in Glendale, California, in 1918, and began his career as an artist and teacher at the University of California, Los Angeles. He received his Bachelor of Education and Masters degrees there before going on to teach in the art department from 1946 to 1954. While at UCLA, Adams formed relationships with many of the pioneers of California Modernism, including Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Lorser Feitelson, John McLaughlin, and others. From there, he went on to head the art departments at the Universities of Kentucky and Florida, before moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1961. He was the Dean of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico from 1961 to 1976. He continued to live in Albuquerque until his death in 2002.