Many artists feel all too keenly the conundrum of explaining their art when the objective is for the work to start a conversation rather than paint a pretty picture. Evan is one of these artists. Unfortunately, if he wants a conversation based around his work, he would have to completely disengage from his audience. For when the viewer is confronted with his work’s ambiguity (which also happens to be engaging to the point of appreciating it on a purely aesthetic level) and his flare for the dramatic in personal style and ideology, it’s damn difficult to keep from asking more questions about himself than his work.
Fortunately, he is an excellent writer, and when asked direct questions, eloquent about his objective. Otherwise, this whole endeavor to find out more about his work would be exhausting due to the distraction of his character.
So without further ado…
You teach art history and photo. What’s your favorite period in history? How does it affect your photography and artistic practice?
For a few years now I’ve been really interested in the Historical Avant-Garde, particularly the 1910’s to 30’s. A lot of the art from that period deals with elements that are important to my own practice: abstraction, radical politics, and institutional critique. This was also a very experimental time for photography with people like Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and Alexander Rodchenko. I’m interested in how artists come up with ways to evade aesthetic conventions and, for me, that’s what the photography of that time is all about.
One of my favorite books is Ten Days That Shook the World, a first hand account of the October Revolution in 1917 written by radical American journalist John Reed. He’s the only American to be buried at the Kremlin. Lenin said it was his favorite account of the revolution and even wrote an introduction for the book. When Stalin became General Secretary he had the book banned because it made him look like a very minor player compared to Lenin and Trotsky. Reed was also known for hanging out in the Village with people like Emma Goldman and Eugene O’Neill. At this time Stieglitz was showing groundbreaking work at his gallery so it’s fascinating to think of all these things happening in New York simultaneously.
Of your old work, what’s your best failed project? How has it influenced your current work?
When I was a junior at VCU I started taking pictures of the television at night. That was the beginning of my interest in images that are in circulation, but go unnoticed for some reason. It was also the first time I had worked with appropriation and abstraction in the sense that I was removing a preexisting thing from its original context.
I didn’t have cable so a lot of the shows on late at night were televangelists. The work ended up becoming about these mysterious, dramatic gestures and I had a difficult time tying that back to the significance of the original source. It was a little too formal. I think the work I’ve done over the past few years with declassified government documents has improved upon finding that link between form and content while still leaving room for viewers to draw their own conclusions.
What are you currently working on?
For the last year I’ve been working with images I’ve taken from the FBI’s National Stolen Art File, an online database of, you guessed it, stolen art. A lot of the images in database are really poor reproductions of the original work of art. They’ve been photocopied, scanned, compressed and uploaded to the FBI’s website; they’re just beyond recognition, totally abstracted. There’s no way the works could be identified using these images. So, I thought I would make placeholders for them by enlarging the digital file and displaying them in a way that references the original materials. If the stolen work is a painting, I print it on canvas and put it on stretchers. If it’s a photograph, I print it on paper and display it in a generic frame. The final products end up looking like distorted, cheap, DIY reproductions you might find in someone wannabe collector’s home. I think of them as ghost images of the originals, occupying a strange place between cultural artifact and abstract data. The work raises questions about the value of digital images, but I think that aspect is meant to be a conversation with the viewers so I’ll stop there.
What do you look for in a mentor? Who in your family has influenced your work the most? Who in your social circle?
When I was in Catholic school in Upstate New York I had this southern gentleman of an art teacher. Not sure how he ended up in the Northeast. He called me “Mr. Hmmm” and whenever I made something he liked he would show it to the class and say “Everybody say ‘hmmm”. Right before I moved away he gave me an art award and said “show ’em what you got in Virginia, boy”. He wore a cowboy hat sometimes. Maybe that’s where I got it.
I suppose my family is how I got into art in the first place. I really loved to draw as a kid and they encouraged me to keep doing it. I used to copy Norman Rockwell illustrations. My grandmother is a talented painter and she tried to teach me how to work with oils, but I didn’t have the patience for it.
As for my social circle, I was lucky enough to go to grad school with artists I’ve become friends with and whose work I really love – Wesley Clark, Larry Cook, and Katherine Sifers (you’re welcome for the plug, guys). Since I moved back to Richmond I’ve been playing music a lot with friends, which is very different than my visual art practice. The way we make music is a very collaborative, democratic, and spontaneous process. I’m hoping that spills over into my visual work because it tends to be very planned out and rigorous. I could use some more surprises.
Have you made any discoveries in your practice as a result of becoming a member of Project Dispatch and making work for subscriptions?
Going back to the desire for a little spontaneity in my work, I think being a part of the project has helped that. If I like something I’ve made, I don’t over-think and I just send it out. Also, most of my work tends to be large scale so it’s a good challenge to try to create something that doesn’t rely on the presence of a huge print.
If you could pick three artists from the Project to subscribe to, who would they be?
Rachel England, Chandi Kelley, and Jerome Skiscim.
For some extra fun, visit this same interview given by Evan to his friend, Nate Waggoner, one night at a bar during the holidays… www.evan-hume.com/interview/
You are definitely going to want to…
CHECK OUT MORE WORK BY EVAN, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.