Last month, Norwegian artist Margrethe Aanestad spoke with fellow artist Franklin Evans about his artistic practice and an upcoming exhibition he is organizing for the Prosjektrom Normanns in Stavanger. Below, Aanestad talks with Evans about his past projects, current work, and plans for coming to Stavanger.
Margrethe Aanestad: I had the honor of visiting you in your studio on Lower East Side some weeks ago in New York. At that time, you were preparing for your exhibition in Montreal at the Steven Zevitas Gallery in Boston and Montserrat College of Art Gallery further north. Two parallel shows! (Congratulations on the great reviews, amongst them Boston Globe and Art New England.) We also talked a bit about your practice in general and about your exhibition at Prosjektrom Normanns next year. To being, can you tell us a little bit about your work – your references to painting and art history, the artist's studio, the materials you use... What is it about this material that inspires you?
Franklin Evans: I am a painter who builds installation environments, which both are and reflect a painter’s studio. I expose many of the conceptual and material processes in creating paintings as objects. I use both the objects and the explorations as collages in space, which become experiential environments for the viewer. The exposing of my thinking in the installations unveils my interests (biography, time, culture, contemporary art and art history). Much of my work is driven by an obsession that I have not clearly defined, and frequently it has a link to past art. For example, I have used lots of tape in my installations. I had initially used tape as a painting tool to create crisp edges. The residue of paint on the tape interested me and became one of the elements around the studio I would observe to paint into the paintings. The tape led to defining relationships with myself to Mondrian and his tape studies in composing his paintings and to Barnett Newman’s tape zips as the fabric that made the oneness in his paintings. These relationship offered paths that could expand in my studio as I engage in a cross-temporal relationship of Mondrian and Newman to my New York studio. Paint interests me, and material (tape, transparency, etc.) interests me, but I would not describe them as inspirational. Matisse’s obsessive work ethic inspires, as does Duchamp’s pursuit of non-repetition.
MA: I remember the experience of first seeing your work, at the installation at UNTITLED Art fair in Miami 2012 at Federico Luger Gallery. I was so amazed by it. And also your show at Ameringer McEnery Yohe this summer; it was huge and overwhelming. How do you approach such an expansive space and develop the structures within it?
FE: I frequently describe my installations of a snapshot of the studio at any moment in time. When I commit to an installation in a specific space I bring this snapshot to that space, but the space too impacts my decisions. The architecture has the most weight on my choices. I often have some specific ways I want the viewer to experience parts of what I make (site lines, unobstructed views, a specific distance from which to look). For these spaces, I do rough architectural drawings and digital scale models. Every area has a plan/design. In some cases, it could be the repetition of a specific studio painting process. In others, it could be the transposition of studio studies to the exhibition space. I frequently have been given residency periods to develop some of my site installations (MoMA PS1, Futura Contemporary Art Center, Diverseworks, deCordova Museum, Montserrat College of Art, Nevada Museum of Art, Sue Scott Gallery). This is optimal for my work, because it emphasizes the subject of time and its impact on process and the object. In both the exhibitions you refer, I had much less time (3 and 2 days respectively) to install. In both cases, I had to prepare much more exactingly in advance. Although I was generally pleased with both installations, I think they would have become more hyperbolically Franklin Evans had I been given 10 – 20 days to install. I am sure many artists also desire these extended residency/installation periods, but the reality of the art world is much shorter installation times.
MA: Is site specificity important to your practice?
FE: I would say a qualified “no.” But site is important, particularly odd site, such as a room with columns obstructing views, strangely angled corners, irregular ceiling heights. Site specificity is more about an artist engaging with the site in terms beyond the physical space, such as culture and social history, etc. I have addressed site to some degree in these specificity terms for two installations. One was at Nevada Museum of Art where I returned to my hometown and developed a show about home and return. I built a Franklin Evans painting studio, but there was much more about the place, Reno and the desert west, and my relationship to it.
MA: In your studio, it was interesting to see how the space itself was like a universe of layers and layers, hundreds of smaller and larger pieces and materials reflecting and contrasting each other in a very specific way. Even the paintings on canvas seemed to belong to their places in a way, seeming to grow in and out of the walls and floor. How do you approach bringing work from your studio into a new space?
FE: I enjoy my paintings and feel they are unlike anyone else’s. My use of trompe l’oeil, studio as subject, and the process represented trompe l’oeil is an amalgamation that is unlike other work now or before. The paintings have relationships to other art but they are unlike those of other artists. That said (my belief in the uniqueness of my paintings), I feel that my installations offer more of what you see in the studio (the layers of time, studies of past walls behind and beneath new explorations). My studio walls and floors are twelve years of work. This is my world. It is a bit like the human life. We have high moments and lower ones, but our accumulated stories are nearly always more interesting than the isolated ones. I think this is true for painting, straight painting, as well. Matisse has exceptional works “Bonheur de Vivre,” “Blue Nude,” and “The Snail,” but the collection of these works is more than the isolations. In approaching this position I hold, I bring A LOT from the studio to my installations. More is more is more!
MA: You often make paintings on unstretched canvas. Would you say they are smaller versions or mini-universes of your larger room-based work?
FE: I can see how you might read them as mini-universes of my larger work and in ways they are. They are not a representation of my studio world but more like components of the studio world. They are brethren of the studies on the walls and the notes I accumulate in thinking about how to make them and other things. They are often shown adjacent to and/or overlapping the residual tools that were used to make them (recycled and used tape, digital prints, which are in turn painted into the paintings). As components of the installations, they are probably the most important component, although not by much. There is a symbiotic relationship between the paintings and the installations. Each learns from and determines the other.
MA: Let's go backwards a little bit into your history; you are originally from Reno, Nevada, which I just learned by googling is the "The Biggest Little City in the World" and famous for its casinos! And there´s the Sierra Nevada mountain range. And gold mines! How would you say that growing up in that environment, both the culture and the nature, has influenced you and your work?
FE: Reno is a strange place to come from. It has a very transient population. It is conservative although the economy was developed by “vice” (prostitution, quick divorce, gaming, and tourism). I left in 1985 to attend university. That is thirty years ago. So I feel more formed by the past thirty years than those early eighteen. What I retain most from that time is my memory of the desert landscape (dry air, visual sharpness, intense focus, mountains that contrast greatly with and arid land, and the vastness of space). Culturally I received very little, other than typical small town American sports culture, although sports culture as subject was part of my student work and possibly even my early animations obsessing over the awkwardness of the male gaze.
MA: Did you always know you were an artist?
FE: From Reno I didn’t know one could become an artist as a life choice. I drew like all children did in school and I was good at copying from wildlife magazines. I had an aunt who was a landscape painter in California, but I didn’t know well what she did. As a quantitatively skilled student I thought I would become a physicist, engineer, mathematician, economist. But as an undergraduate at Stanford University in California through an elective drawing course my second or third year, I found something I was obsessed with and through the art department faculty’s support I realized that I could have a creative life. I am forever grateful to my professor artists Kristina Branch and Frank Lobdell who encouraged me.
MA: When and why did you decide to relocate to New York? Would you say that being based in NY has been and is important to you? And if so, in what way?
FE: After Stanford, I attend a three-year MFA program at University of Iowa in Painting. I was 25 in 1993 when I finished and I knew by then that New York was where I needed to try to make it as an artist. In hindsight, other major cities could have worked (London, Berlin, possibly Los Angeles and Paris). I was a very young 25 when I arrived, meaning my work was not very mature. I had ambition but I still had a lot to learn about art, art history and contemporary practice. New York has been my greatest education as an artist, by far! Access to the multitude of museum exhibitions and contemporary art exposed me to so much. I would see art that had been made and know that I could not repeat that form. I could use parts and certainly investigate the content and craft, but it was clear that I had to find my own work. This finding period requires many, many years (at full-time investigation, I posit roughly ten years).
MA: What will you say is the key to surviving as an artist, to stay grounded and at the same time active internationally?
FE: Hard work, focus, ambition, and good fortune. Only a handful of each generation will survive history. We are playing a fool’s game if we expect to become historically important. But we are lucky if we know our commitment to our creativity and can see possible paths for its exploration. Hopefully, there is a bit of life joy in there too.
MA: Stavanger is a very small city, but with a hint of international energy and an actively growing art scene. We are very proud to have you coming over next year! To that point, we are curious about how you plan to approach the Prosjektrom Normanns space. Can you tell us a little bit about what we can look forward to?
FE: This is hard one. I will certainly do a bit of research into the place. I also have a bit of Norwegian in me. My paternal grandmother was from Norway. I may bring some of that biographic history to this exploration in Stavanger. I am also thinking about how not to bring more is more is more to this installation. How can I do less or something different? Fortunately, I have several months and this cozy winter to think and develop.
MA: Also, you told me you have relatives in Norway! A famous ski-jumper? Will you incorporate something from this into the project for Stavanger?
FE: If I can convince my aunt to help me in the research of this ski-jumper (who I do not know much about) …. Maybe I will do a performance ski-jump within the space of Prosjektrom Normanns? Or a slalom course through tape screens? Or because of my limited knowledge of my Norwegian past, an exploration of history’s slow erosion and erasure.
MA: And finally, are you currently working on any other upcoming projects?
FE: I am currently working on the set design for a multi-media theater piece that opens at the end of January in New York. It will be a play run through a Franklin Evans world, “Kentucky Cantata” by Paul David Young. I am also preparing a solo presentation in March at Volta NY. Also later in March I will show new works on paper at Paris Now. And in December I will collaborate with artist Kate Gilmore on a residency installation in Las Vegas (Ha – Nevada again!). This one will be at Art Production Fund’s P3 Studio in the Cosmopolitan Hotel (a casino)! It is possible that part of what I develop at Prosjektrom Normanns will travel to Milan for a solo show in late 2015 or early 2016. I look forward to the visit to Stavanger.
Franklin Evans was born in 1967 in Reno, Nevada. He lives and works in New York, NY. He has degrees from Stanford University, University of Iowa, and Columbia University. Since 2005, he has had sixteen solo exhibition in the United States and Europe and numerous group exhibitions at venues that include, among others: MoMA PS1, New York, NY; Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV; deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA; DiverseWorks, Houston, TX; RISD Museum, Providence, RI; Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC; Futura, Prague, Czech Republic; El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY; The Drawing Center, New York, NY; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA; Montserrat College of Art, Beverly, MA; Federico Luger, Milan, Italy; Ameringer McEnery Yohe, New York, NY; Sue Scott, New York, NY. His work has been featured and reviewed in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Art in America, New York Magazine,Artforum, The New Yorker, Modern Painters, Brooklyn Rail, Art-Agenda, Flash Art International, Hyperallergic, Art New England, Sculpture Magazine, among other publications. Awards and grants include: Pollock- Krasner Foundation Grant; NYFA Fellowship (Painting); PM Foundation; Tribesice; Yaddo; The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation Space Program; and LMCC. Evans work is included in the public collections of Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando, FL; El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY; Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC; Sweeney Art Gallery, University of California, Riverside, CA; Pizzuti Collection, Columbus, OH; The Progressive Art Collection, Cleveland, OH; Salomon Foundation, Annecy, France.