In a Word: The Art of Simon Evans
British-born artist Simon Evans is known for fusing language with everyday items to create an imaginative body of work that illustrates and documents observations on life. Evans forthcoming show, Edible Landscape at James Cohan Gallery in New York opens next month on February 13, overlapping for only three days with the artist’s latest museum show, Only Words Eaten by Experience, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, which closes on February 16. Originally a writer, the inspiration from poetry and narrative work is obvious in the artist’s intricate body of collage and tapestries. Heavily influenced by his own environment, Evans’ new work is a reflection on his new home, Brooklyn, New York, where he has settled with his wife and partner, Sarah Evans, after five years in the much more relaxed and affordable creative hive of Berlin, Germany.
Evans has carved his niche in the art world using unlikely mediums to create gorgeous collages that are read like paintings. The artist expertly transforms paper scraps, Scotch tape, pencil shavings, white-out and thread into sophisticated art mediums, giving rudimentary remnants a feeling of elegance and grace. Initially used to create drafts and plans for actual paintings, Evans discovered that the found materials stood on their own and represented the artist’s exploration of the ephemera of peoples’ lives. He says they are the perfect symbol of the human project in general.At first glance, the resulting pieces appear like an homage to an office supply store, organized into diagrams, maps, flowcharts, letters and even journal entries. But spending time with his work, the viewer begins to feel the personal perspective that each fragment, torn paper or written word reveals about Evans’ (and his partner’s) life and life views.
The upcoming Edible Landscape at James Cohan Gallery pulls heavily from the couple’s relocation to the great city of New York. Evans has described the exhibition as a “concept album,” translating his experience with New York to try a new form of communication with his art. With an interest steeped in New York poetry, the works in the exhibition take on the flavor of their new city, including a nod to the history and importance of Abstract Expressionism on New York. When asked of his impression of Brooklyn, the artist says “Money, money, money and American self-entitlement are the first things that pop into my head,” both of which are evident themes in this new body of work.
With dozens of torn scraps of paper, snippets of maps, found CDs and old business cards scrawled with messages, Evans describes his view of the landscape of New York, through fragments of documentary material actually culled from the city streets. The piece Big Ghostcombines these elements, acting as a snapshot into the vivacious brain of New York. Like a day in the life of the buzzing city, the piece is a map of activity happening all over Manhattan, from a paper plate evoking New York pizza, to weathered VIP bracelets from a club, to hand written anecdotes collaged over crisscrossed strips recalling the grid design of Manhattan streets and avenues. The piece at once feels alive, but with its nearly monochromatic tones brings on the ethereality of a ghost, showing how the idea of New York is in fact not something tangible.Notes, with its yellow Post-its and index cards, feels more like a peek inside the brain of the artist and the inner struggles he has battled in his new home. Touching on thoughts of truth, beauty and outward perception, the scribbles and stains found throughout humanize the piece, bringing a feeling of insecurity that has come with Evans move to a capitalist, competitive city.
Only Words Eaten by Experience, at MOCA Cleveland has an entirely different feeling than the James Cohan show, both for the visitor and the artist. Rather than creating new art work, the exhibition meant logistics and paperwork for the artist, rounding up past work from collectors and assembling it together in one show. Although the work is still very personal, the pieces seem more organized than works created since he has been in New York. Still employing the same obsessive cataloging of life with scraps and shavings, the work remains rooted in the literary world, with quotes, references and poetic devices found throughout. Evans’ first tapestry,Letter to the Future, uses the historical process that was once used for kings and queens but now is used to painstakingly replicate hand writing on legal paper. The tapestry describes a primitive art show and is signed by William Shakespeare, reinforcing the artists’ references to literature. A small piece of notebook paper, complete with ripped holes from its spiral binding, is used for Map Tongue, a small piece that renames the taste regions of the tongue into comparisons to societal classes and notions of criticism and transcendence. The extensive exhibition illustrates Evans’ body of work made during his five years in Berlin, which often humorously tackles the absurdity of existence.
Both exhibitions illustrate Evans’ unique take and witty criticism of life, but also act as evidence of his growth and evolution as an artist. The forthcoming Edible Landscapes is the perfect follow up to the MOCA Cleveland retrospective, marking an important move forward for the artist and his work.