JOHN EVANS John Evans: 1984by Valery Oisteanu
PAVEL ZOUBOK GALLERY | MARCH 15 – APRIL 14, 2012
A LETTER TO JOHN EVANS
FROM VALERY OISTEANU
WOW! Just got back from your opening at Pavel Zoubok’s gallery, and once again your work took my breath away. 1984 invokes the ghost of George Orwell and the East Village of bygone times. These works, all created in that immemorial year, evoke streets littered with stories of our small corner of the city—and you found every one of them and transformed them into art. From stickers and labels to old photos, stamps, and packaging, your jazzy colors transform each page into a magical mystery land of avant-gardes.
The exhibition is a trip into a time tunnel filled with the Neo-Dada ghosts of Ray Johnson, Albert Fine, Edward Plunkett, May Wilson, Buster Cleveland, and Tom Wirth. “International Mail Art is the most important and most significant art movement in the world today,” proclaims a manifesto rubber-stamped onto a green paper cut-up square. Who am I to disagree? The classic Lucky Strike cigarette logo becomes “Lucky Spike,” and I want to smoke one! Each artwork has its own pun.
Your collages contain prophecies, mystical symbols, strange photos, and fragments of letters and textiles. A letter from an old newspaper, The Sun, from April 5, 1917, appears in your collage made on April 5, 1984. Another collage, “Oct. 30, 1984,” frames a damaged photo of Ed Higgins surrounded by ducks staring at me under a headline that screams “SURVIVOR” by generation one. That prophecy came true; he is one of the few survivors from the mail art gang who is still active.
Another historical piece, “Jan. 18, 1984,” features a call for a Mail Art show to be curated by Ronny Cohen at the Franklin Furnace (a downtown avant-garde collective founded by Martha Wilson). Wilson also is a survivor and keeps artists funded and honestly creative in a radical way today.
I appreciate your discreet thank-yous (handwritten on the bottom page) to those fellow artists who sent you cutouts, which you often appropriated. Of course, viewing so many collages (65 in all) reveals a prevailing common element—the “Ursuline ducks” appearing somewhere on every single page. I so enjoyed watching you work on them. Every day a new collage was born.
My favorite “memory collages” are of your twins India and Honor, “April 4, 1984,” and another of your daughters with you titled, “Nov. 2, 1984.” I remember when they were born. The Irish green and the “Dakota gray”-blue mix with the pink ducks, with the sign that reads “EV2” (East Village twins); the colors complement sophisticated compositions that record personal art history, like your shows at Cordier & Ekstrom and/or Gallery Henoch!
On the left front wall of this latest show, I observed five large collages that you made recently, with strong bright colors in India ink dominating the composition. One of them contained a cutout with a quotation from a review I wrote about you years ago. What a pleasant surprise. The back wall was a giant collage of collages, a mural illustrating the varied aspects of your encounters with stuff—a colorful installation that reads like a historical anthropological map of downtown New York City. Such works can also be absorbed as a contemporary Art History 101 of galleries in the East Village and SoHo, with their references to long-defunct sites such as the Castelli Gallery on Greene Street (“please close the door when exciting!”) or the departed gallery of St. Marks at 121 St. Mark’s Place and later at 411 East 9th Street.
John, this show is just great, and once again I proclaim you the All-Time Master of Collage!