A Studio Visit with Franklin Evans: EYESONTHEEDGE
On ViewSue Scott Gallery
March 2 – April 15, 2012
“You can just step on the plexi-covered portion,” Evans said as I walked into the space and across the beginnings of the artist’s installation at Sue Scott Gallery on the Lower East Side. I was walking on the front face of an upended bookshelf, recreated in measurements (180 by 60 by 4.5 inches) that accord precisely to the artist’s personal library. Littered among the shelves of the sleek white structure were reproduced books from the artist’s studio, neon-colored rolls of artist’s tape, photo clipping ephemera, and bits of string. The illusion of stepping directly into studio debris was disorienting at first, and it was only one of the many surprises I would encounter over the course of three meetings with the artist, currently in the throes of installing his second solo exhibition at the gallery.
Originally from Reno, Nevada, Franklin Evans is known for his architecturally inflected re-presentations of his New York studio. For his debut at MoMA PS1’s 2010 installment of its “Greater New York” programming, Evans created a multi-layered, site-specific installation consisting of hundreds of feet of artist’s tape, printed press releases, wall paintings, and text—material culled from either his personal experiences or his creative practice. Much of the same sensibility fills the space at Sue Scott, yet this time, Evans has transferred much of his ephemera-based imagery onto canvas, exhibiting a total of seven completed paintings in addition to site-specific wall and floor installations. At first glance, the paintings, which meticulously recreate the illusion of collage in two-dimensions, would seem to be about disrobing the illusion of the medium itself—a treatise (or attack) on art historical discourse à la Daniel Buren (much of the work consists of patterned organizations of striated forms) or Frank Stella. But after numerous conversations with the artist and witnessing the work evolve, it becomes clear that this rather slick thesis is only one aspect of the artist’s intention. Evans is arguably more interested in presenting a collection of systems: ones that, in their often slippery means of application, we use to make sense of the world around us, as fodder for the creative impulse, and as allegory for the artistic process itself. In fact, all of Evans’s work is about process. And paint.
With a B.A. from Stanford and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa, Evans is institutionally trained as a painter, yet he considers himself a “materialist” first and foremost. That he has only recently begun reconstituting his imagery onto the moveable plane may be surprising for some. But when pressed as to whether or not this new activity could be categorized as contradictory, Evans responded that he has always been an interdisciplinary artist, albeit with strong ties to painting. Indeed, the shift to canvas in pieces like “wallcollectionwallsystem” and “flatbedfactumasstudiowall01” (all work 2012) was more of a functional move than an aesthetic one (snippets of tape, studio detritus, and unframed/raw working sketches still line the perimeter of the gallery walls), but that in no way diminishes the power and eloquence with which the artist speaks to that moment of recognition that sparks creative inspiration. In this sense, the paintings comprise only one piece of the puzzle, the viewer left incapable of separating their frenetic aura—often marked by a cadenced vortex of taped angles, lines, and triangular folds—from the geometrically-oriented debris and photographic systems that surround and at times engulf the canvases. It is only upon close inspection that the spell is broken and the image is revealed for what it is: acrylic paint on unprimed canvas. That the finished works often careen off the walls and onto the floor, as in “gnycollectionofwallobservation,” only adds to their illusionistic effects, like draped sketches awaiting some final mark of artistic genius. What is most interesting about the work, however, is that it registers so many seemingly disparate sources of inspiration, from which the artist amasses these tactile accumulations of time and space.
One example is coded in the medium-format family and art world inkjet prints, titled “indexicalmeasfocalscreen2012,” that line the exterior perimeter of the space, at times jutting out into the room to create gridded architectural dividers. Both physically and metaphorically, this series of images acts as a grounding element for the inherent chaos introduced by the strikingly loud-paletted paintings. As an entry point into the artist’s mind, the prints are fascinating markers; touchstones such as Richter’s and Warburg’s atlases make up a number of the images, as do art world exhibitions seen over the course of the previous year. A singular image of the artist’s partner along with visual references to the life of Evans’s Houston Street studio prior to his tenancy (seen here in the form of a fuzzy black-and-white photograph of John Currin and Sean Landers standing in the artist’s space) are particularly striking.
“1967,” a sound piece broadcast throughout the gallery space on a three to four-hour loop comprising over 350 discrete fragments of text encountered by the artist during the past year, is narrated by five different voices, adding an additional component to Evans’s repertoire of multimedia forms. Located on a flimsy card table in the far corner of the gallery, it too serves as a substantive force, compelling the viewer to move more slowly, to look more carefully, at the images that embody the sources of the artist’s creative thought. According to Evans, this “de-heroizing” of the artistic process is at the core of his conceptual practice. “This is really a conversation about art,” Evans says, likening the appropriation of his own and other artists’ personal “images of collections of images” to the simple diffusion of visual language.
There is a certain bravery in such straightforward depictions of artistic exposé. Carried from the artist’s studio in neatly stacked and labeled piles, tubes, trays, and containers, these installations introduce the ineluctable themes of transport and reproduction. The idea that anything can be recreated is elucidated here, yet concurrently brought to the fore is the notion that this recreation will never achieve one hundred percent accuracy. For Evans, Warhol’s Factory does not exist. The process, rather, is open-ended, organic, and, with any luck, “takes one in directions that could not have been predicted otherwise.” Ideas may be transported, images carted from one venue to the next (Evans has a concurrent exhibition scheduled for April in Milan, in which he plays on the idea of Rauschenberg’s famous diptychs, “Factum I” and “Factum II”), but the end product, like thought turned to object, will always differ slightly from the original.
Ultimately, what Evans offers is highbrow artistic craftsmanship coupled with the coveted glance behind the curtain, one that in our contemporarily frenzied quest for authenticity, cannot be bought, sold, or commodified. Such is the beauty of the creative process. It also locates the artist’s work with a poignant sense of urgency. Systematic organizations of chaos: fearless, raw, and fervently applied.