Farther Afield

Gary Evans

at the MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie, ON
July 2 - October 30, 2016

Farther Afield (installation view)

Farther Afield (installation view) , 2016 MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie, ON

We are pleased to announce Farther Afield, a survey exhibition of paintings and collages by Gary Evans, curated by Renée van der Avoird and Stuart Reid.

Reception: Thursday, July 7, 7 to 9 pm

Artist Talk: September 23, 12:15 to 1 pm, Rotary Education Centre. Admission free

Gary Evans is widely recognized for his distinctive painting practice that spans two decades. This summer, the MacLaren presents a survey of the artist’s celebrated oil paintings from the mid-2000s to the present, complemented by a selection of recent collages.

Evans’ vibrant paintings challenge traditional notions of perception and our experience of the landscape. His inventive approach references historical painting—Arcadian subjects and lively Baroque brushwork—as well as contemporary themes such as consumerism and urban sprawl. Layered with dense colours and shifting points of perspective, Evans’ paintings challenge us to view the world around us from an alternative vantage point, accelerated by movement through space and time.

Further emphasizing the visual impact of our increasingly technological culture, Evans’ collages arrange excised imagery from fashion magazines into carefully constructed spatial collisions. Decontextualized, these fragments depict abstracted formal structures that echo the mysterious and furtive energies of his paintings.

Gary Evans was born in Weston Super Mare, England and lives in Alliston, Ontario. His more than twenty solo exhibitions include Seeing Things: The Paintings of Gary Evans, which toured across Canada between 2000 and 2002, as well as Station, a survey of paintings presented at the Art Gallery of Windsor in 2008. Evans is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design and is the Coordinator at the School of Design And Visual Art, Georgian College, Barrie, Ontario. He is represented by Paul Petro Contemporary Art in Toronto.

Farther Afield

by PEARL VAN GEEST, guest essayist

Art is the inversion and transformation of nature’s profusion.
—Elizabeth Grosz

Painting, especially as it is manipulated contemporarily, is a contradictory medium. It is fugitive and malleable and shifty. These probably contribute more to its strength and durability than do opposite characteristics equally as attributable to it—its ability to be emphatic, direct and expressive. One canvas alone can carry a multiplicity of perspectives and interpretive potential. Just when you think that you have it sorted out, you see things another way. Painting really can have it all.

Gary Evans makes paintings on whose surfaces a range of perspectives are marked. They hold seemingly opposing tendencies in fluid suspension. Exuberant movement and stillness; open space and restrictive boundaries; recognizable forms and a dissolution of contour; stability and flux; deep depth of field and shallow surface manipulations; optical effects and palpable tactility; elusiveness and bravado; the fanciful and the carefully observed; as well as macro and micro viewpoints, are amongst the contrapositions that vibrate between each other. Colour, rhythmic line and strange yet often familiar shapes and forms draw us in. As we look more—and give ourselves over to the looking—the play between these intersecting sets of complementary qualities reveals unexpected associations; they create integral rhythms, and generate new sensations and feelings.

Rhythm is laid down on the canvases in ripples, broken lines, colours and undulations. In Two (2015), for example, these marks swarm and traverse the canvas, coalescing and congealing into shapes that change and reappear out of the periphery to reform in other permutations when the eye rests upon them again. Evans’ shifting forms are delineated by transitory contours temporarily created by the push of marks outward as much as they are created by the marks that construct a perimeter. The swift and then slow brush strokes reverberate around some vortex that periodically releases its hold in alternative pulses of expansion and contraction.

This fluctuation of shape and form is especially evident in Down to the Valley (After Rubens) (2014). In it, some smudgy shapes are relatively solid but even these threaten to break apart at any moment. Colour-laden strokes are applied onto a hot orange background that is cleverly painted over in sections in hues close to the central orange so even that stability quivers and in parts is also engaged in “the battle between the foreground and background” that Evans asserts as a constitutive part of his paintings. In this battle, receding spaces temporarily open up, suggesting private, mysterious and alluring places. We become the distant observer: a voyeur longing for secrets that can only be discovered within sweet spots amongst a tangle of lines, a flash of colour here, or a small little circle there. In Down to the Valley (After Rubens), Evans leaves us to our own devices to find our way in, through and around a composition that teeters deliciously on the edge of dissolution. Different views emerge as perspectives shift and vie for prominence.

From theoretical physics, the principle of complementarity makes a striking analogy as a way to approach painting practiced in such a manner. In his book, A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design, Frank Wilczek, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, writes that, “from his immersion in the quantum world, where contradiction and truth are near neighbours, Niels Bohr drew the lesson of complementarity: no one perspective exhausts reality, and different perspectives may be valuable, yet mutually exclusive.” In some ways Gary Evans’ art practice can be seen as a parallel exploration to that undertaken by the physicists Wilszek writes about, and while there are different aims between the worlds of art and science in their investigations of the material plane, the principle of complementarity holds true for both. Even the play between the ordinary and the strange is included in this party—and is at home in both worlds.

Things do get really strange and wild in Florida (Piper) (2010) where the melding and melting forms take on a fetid and apocalyptic air. Membranes encircle boil-like densities of paint that hover over glimpses of a modern suburb on one side and a wooded area on the other, colonizing and obliterating the landscape. It is all at once, both the best of dreams and the worst of nightmares. As in the myth of Pandora, it appears as if these oozy but luscious pustules are being let loose on the world from a box; in this case one that appears to be resting on a concrete platform suspended over uncertain terrain.

Red marks, free from attachments, lead us up and down a plane of reflection that lies just off to the right of the centre. Evans makes frequent use of this sort of mirroring in his compositions, creating slightly off-kilter symmetries where one side reflects the other, often in complementary and contradictory ways. In this case, a suggestion of a path in the woods reflects a manicured suburban trail and a bushy tree full of foliage mirrors a tree stuck in a concrete planter. Are we seeing two sides of the same coin; or perhaps facing sides of a page that was folding and pressed together when the pages were still wet with paint? The shape of one side echoes the other, often in reverse as if at one point they fit together and then were ripped apart—leaving divots and negative space from where the protruding form has been excavated.

This reflection of opposites and missing halves is found in Gathered Landscape (2006) where amoebic shapes made of concentric layers of complementary colour harmonies take over a luxury modernist mansion—disgorging the accumulated histories of its inhabitants. It makes sense that as a teenager, Evans favoured the films of Lynch over Spielberg: drawn to the undercurrent that cannot be contained, the terrible enigma at the core, the algal bloom that exudes from the fecund underbelly that lies beneath normalcy—and never giving it all away just like that.

Even in the most Arcadian of Evans’ pictures some kind of disruptive element surfaces or threatens to rupture through the surface. Evans says that he is trying to “explain mysterious forces and give them structure.” He says that in painting he is, “speaking in code” for something “fundamental that is just outside of (one’s) grasp.” The philosopher Elizabeth Grosz expresses this concept in another way, writing that, “painting is about rendering the invisible in visible form.” In her book, Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth, she elaborates: “the visual and sonorous arts capture something of the vibratory structure of matter itself; they extract color, rhythm, movement from chaos in order to slow down and delimit within it a territory.” Within this territory that art demarcates, sensations are intensified and new perceptions are made possible. These, in turn, connect the body to chaos and cosmological forces that cannot be experienced directly.

There is a flipside to this concept of art from which Florida (Piper) and Gathered Landscape, in all their oozy wildness, can be viewed. Grosz explains that art is also the “converse movement”, a way to dismantle systems, territories and enclosures thereby “enabling something mad, asystematic, something of the chaotic outside to reassert and restore itself in and through the body.”

One of the most powerful means by which art reaches the body is through rhythm—and it impacts and unifies all of our senses. Rhythm, the philosopher Gilles Deleuze explains, “appears as music when it invests the auditory level, and as painting when it invests the visual level. This is the ‘logic of the senses,’ as Cézanne said, which is neither rational nor cerebral… It is diastole-systole: the world that seizes me by closing in around me, the self that opens up to the world and opens the world itself.” Rhythm beats from Evans’ paintings and collages in ways that have been described already—through the expansion and contraction of the shapes, forms and lines; through the reflecting and flipping of shape and form; through the tactility of the lines and rhythmic brush strokes—and most profoundly through his use of colour.

Colour has powerful rhythmic potential when used in a way that links touch with vision by exploiting the vibrational energy of colour harmonies. In Four in One (2016), complementary hues of red and green, orange and blue and yellow and purple juxtaposed in graduations and modulations of warm and cool tones harness these energies. They vibrate in rhythmic frequencies that we “feel” with our eyes. This is the haptic function of colour.

Evans also uses colour rhythmically in ways that harken back to techniques developed by the Flemish Baroque master Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Evans makes clear his admiration for and debt to Rubens in conversation. He shares with Rubens both exuberance and vitality, and a way of using a continuous play of curves to connect one form to the other and colour placement to link these forms together—often in counter point to the flow of the lines—which creates both dynamic movement and unity at the same time. In Down to the Valley (After Rubens), the expansive sense of movement is slowed down here and there by an accumulation of paint, a small focused spiral, an opening, a distant view or a telling detail. It is lush and sensual.

Down to the Valley (After Rubens) isn’t the only painting whose title homage pays to Rubens directly. Evans may have removed the actual bodies in Down to the Valley but he has retained the animated quality of the fleshy intertwined forms. Shapes with, as Evans calls them, “fuzzy edges” emerge out of paint and interact with and twist around each other. Limb-like branches, pushing up and back intrude on the more thinly painted supportive space around them and are reflected in the shimmering surface below. The surrounding greens fluctuate in temperature and hue, from the yellow/greens of spring to delicate blues. They ripple next to each other as if the surface of a still lake oscillated under a sudden breeze.

Equally sudden in breaking the reverie of the shimmering and shifting tones of green is a broken circle of red, warmer and bright next to its complement of green; the only red around. It surrounds another dense, layered and intense painting incident. The whole form alternately emanates from the surface and opens into a wormhole leading to deep space. The red could be the edge of many things. As a bubble, the whole world around it is reflected in the convex surface. As a minute microcosm discovered on a half-submerged log by the shore of the lake, it is a world unto itself. Glimpses of tantalizing landscapes reside within. Euphoric, it can feel as if you have discovered some sort of paradise. Then some of the exterior forms seem to spread and loom over like mould on rotting wood or fungus on damp basement walls. Mood shifts and all is not what it seems. The tree limbs, if that is even what they are, look strangely deformed and animated. There’s something of the Bosch in the Rubens.

Shapes with even more animation are the central characters in the collages or “patchwork constructions” that Evans cuts from fashion magazines. The shapes bear little allegiance to the integrity of the original forms, but traces and textures of the source remain: a draped elbow here, a section of a flowing skirt there and other lush pieces of fabrics that had ostensibly been draped around a human form. Evans uses the patterns of light and shadow falling on the original forms as a guide for the placement of the separate pieces in the construction of the overall shape. After keying for colour he lines up the highlighted areas so there appears to be continuity in whatever light source could be hitting the strange, cartoony forms that he assembles. This coherence and accompanying sense of movement adds to the idealization of the shapes. We are, as Evans puts it, “entering science fiction… toy territory that can become ridiculous.”

This mischievousness is but one way the collages act as complementary foils to their more tumultuous and (sometimes) more serious companion paintings, holding their own in spite of their relatively small size. They are, according to Evans, “purely optical”, playing off the manual tactility of the paintings. The strict white surfaces upon which the shapes are glued impose a sharp boundary to the edge of the cutouts, contrasting with the loose and changing contours created on the surface of the paintings. The forces acting on the painted canvas seem more tenuously centrifugal—as if the composition could blow apart with any movement. The collaged structures could drift apart but they seem more threatened by an internal force of gravity. They float in space, perfectly poised at the moment before all the fragments collapse in on each other, rotating and condensing into a denser ball of matter. The collages capture a suspended moment in time, while the paintings illuminate a passage, an accumulation of time.

Evans sees things through “an organic lens”, using the immersive and sensuous world as a way to get to the fundamental something that he is working to articulate. Because of this organic-ness and a foundation in the natural world he is often categorized as a landscape painter—a designation that isn’t precisely accurate and one that Evans doesn’t quite accept.

“Landscape”, Evans comments, “is easy to elucidate feelings from because everyone has a relationship of some sort with it.” However, he “never set out to be a landscape painter.” His primary objective is not to reproduce the things of the outer world. Certainly, sometimes recognizable things make their appearance—but briefly. Instead he conveys through “shapes, marks and densities” what “we are feeling when we look at”… landscape and then conversely, what we feel when we look at the works themselves, blurring boundaries between interiority and exteriority. In the end, his works act as parabolic devices, gathering and intensifying feeling as emotion, feeling as sensitivity, and feeling as sensation. He is projecting the vitality of the outer world, its rhythms, impulses and fields outward onto his canvases and collages. Through them we have access to a glimpse of nature’s profusion.

Gary Evans: Farther Afield from MacLaren Art Centre on Vimeo.