Carving Out a Career -Fall 2013
by: Lindsay Pykosz
photography by: Jeffrey Allen
Sculptor JOHN EVANS’ motivation comes from revealing WHAT’S INSIDE A LOG.
His work in wood represents a culmination of ideas that include organic forms and subliminal visual keys that are present in our everyday lives.
His studio at the Gráficas Gallery on Broad Street contains elliptical sculptures in the shape of spirals and screws, and one 13-foot-tall piece that Evans’ friend has dubbed “the French fry.”
“I started thinking, maybe if it’s a French fry to him, maybe it’s all about the food,” Evans said. “I sort of draw my inspiration from things that are interesting to people and things that are sort of a part of our daily lives that you may not necessarily at first glance associate with real design or art. But ultimately, it’s all there. I see these elliptical shapes and these great contemporary forms repeated in nature, in history, in the industrial age. It’s very, very much a part of us and I think that’s probably why people are accepting of it. They may not necessarily understand why it makes sense to them, but it does.”
A native of Ohio, Evans received his bachelor of fine arts degree from Ohio University in Athens, where he studied under his friend and Nantucket sculptor David Hostetler. He also attended The Instituto Allende at the University of Guanajuato, Mexico where he received a master’s degree in sculpture.
With over 40 years of sculpting under his belt, Evans recalled his early days, when he began doing woodcuts in grade school. Later, his time at Ohio University allowed him to immerse himself in a creative setting that became the launching point of his career.
“I was in a great environment for that kind of thing,” he said. “I went to what they called at the time the ‘university lab school’ at OU in Athens and so it was sort of a liberal place and there weren’t grades and there was a lot of art and a lot of music and it was a nice environment to get launched into this kind of thing.”
Evans came to Nantucket a year after Hostetler, and the island became a place where he seriously considered starting his career as an artist.
“I saw (Nantucket) as a possibility. I played music for a number of years and subsidized my art career by doing various things, and I managed to finally land on Old South Wharf in my own place,” Evans said. “I got involved in the Artists Association like so many people do initially, and got a really good response down there. I’m sort of the odd man out in that I do this contemporary thing. I’m not doing the traditional island art thing. It’s good and it’s a growing area of interest. People are more interested in contemporary work than they ever have been.”
Evans has been working with Kathleen Walsh for a number of years, showing his pieces at the Old Spouter Gallery on Orange Street. She has been a strong supporter of his work, which often times “is very different compared to what other people are doing with wood,” in that his pieces are bent and twisted, he said.
The work currently on display inside and outside Evans’ space on Broad Street is a mixture of both three-dimensional and two-dimensional pieces, with wood and bronze sculptures and paintings, a medium that he hasn’t undertaken in quite some time, he said.
“The woodcuts and the printmaking have a very tight relationship to the wood-carving,” he said. “The painting is nice because it allows me to revisit the whole challenge of color, which as a sculptor, other than painting pieces, most of what I do are natural woods. And when you’re doing bronze, the pallet of patinas is limited.”
Within the last few years, Evans has had the chance to spend some time in Italy – usually a month at a time – to work with stone. Working in a community studio in a town where Michelangelo created his pieces has been a unique opportunity, he said, and he plans to return for a little over three weeks in October.
“I started really as a wood-carver to create these organic images,” Evans said. “(Constantine) Brancusi, Henry Moore ... these are the guys who sort of drew the modern movement that I identify with. I have tried to stay true to that simply because I do think that the simpler you can make it, the better. People are always trying to figure out who you are and what you’re doing and what you’re all about. If people asked me what I’m really about, I would refer to the contemporary pieces. All of the rest of these endeavors ultimately play back in. It’s like anything else. Every experience you have in life affects all the others.”
For example, Evans has a fragmented piece in his studio called “Embrace,” a 30-inch-tall sculpture made from dyed sassafras. While it started out as a simple wood piece, Evans has incorporated color and applied a finish to give it a different look and concept.
“That came from my painting, so it’s all a work in progress,” he said. “The paintings make reference to the imagery that I love in sculpture. So there is a consistency.”
Evans has used indigenous woods from Ohio, like walnut and maple, and has been fortunate enough to experience working with pink ivory and ebony, he said. For his painted pieces, he is typically drawn to cottonwood, a medium he used to quickly discard.
“I used to dismiss it as a soft, unimportant tree, but the Indians loved cottonwood because it’s soft and easy to carve,” he said. “I started playing around with it. The nice thing about cottonwood is it just loves to take finish. You can put anything on it and it takes. You can really get nice effects and you can do really complex, really beautiful finishes. Cottonwood just happens to be one of the woods you can do that with that likes to stain.”
Looking around him, Evans said he feels fortunate to have been able to do what he loves “the old-fashioned way” for so long in a place like Nantucket, which has now become his primary residence.
“I started having a gallery because I understand that what I’m trying to sell is a fairly thoughtful process that comes into play,” he said. “It’s not typically a spontaneous purchase, and I always felt like I needed to give myself a chance, more than a week of exposure. The painters that come into a gallery get a week or two, sell what they sell, and that’s it. I just never felt like that would work well with the sculpture I was creating. That’s really what drove me to do the gallery in the first place, to ensure that I would have exposure for the season. I do take pride in the fact that I’ve been able to hang in there.”
Lindsay Pykosz is a Nantucket native and a staff writer for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.