By Puloma Ghosh
Stepping into Carolyn Evans’ house is like stepping into a gallery.
Every corner of her Natick home is filled with artwork, hers and her husband’s, recent and from years past. It contains her journey as an artist, from sculptor to painter, within its walls. Through a hallway in the back of the house, past a detailed bronze sculpture of a fish skimming the water, the waves rendered with curls of metal reminiscent of wood shavings, is a door leading to her studio.
Beyond is a collection of her large paintings, spanning her most recent decades of work.
“Painted bronze sculptures lead to me painting,” said Evans, explaining the connection between her hallways of bronze sculpture and her studio full of oil paintings. “My dealer in New York, Allen Stone, said, ‘You know, your sculptures are getting painterly, why don’t you paint?’ So I did.”
This transition is displayed in her dining room, with a painted bronze sculpture displayed next to a landscape-like abstract, the two complementing each other and displaying clear similarities that Evans stated she herself was unaware of until months after their creation.
The range of paintings in the studio also shows a movement in style. While her earlier works show clear figurative references, such as “En Garde” with the figure and face of a woman with red hair, and a striped fish alongside her, the painting that lies in progress propped up against the wall shows mellow colors and geometric shapes. Evans herself admits to moving towards abstraction.
“It’s editing,” she said, simply. “I want to make sure that I have edited it down to the essence of what I want it to be. It’s the same in writing or dancing or anything; if you have too many subjects you get bogged down with too much. You really want to pinpoint something. It’s taken a really long time for me to get to that.”
Although her work has been maturing, Evans’ life experiences and New Orleans heritage continues to pervade her work. The bronze fish in the hallway echoes in her paintings year after year. It hovers in the skies in the loose form of a cloud in the sparse landscape of “Conscience of Time,” and is scattered in little white flecks over the foreground of the highly abstracted “Well Schooled.”
Each time, it brings Evans back to defining moments of her childhood on the water with her father. “We used to take these great fishing trips into the Gulf of Mexico, go 10 miles out, and catch hundreds of fish at a time. That was the time my father would pat me on the back and say ‘Atta boy! Great catch!’ He would relate to me there.”
Much of her work relates further to her ties to New Orleans: her family, the landscape, the climate. “Queen of X” is a chaotic, yet colorful reference to “King of Rex” — the king of the extensive “Rex” parade for Mardi Gras — drawing from her conflicted feelings about the racial and ethnic exclusivity of those groups when she was growing up.
Images of houses pop up almost as frequently as fish. Evans comes back, over and over, to the idea of home and what that means. She draws houses as simple outlines — symbols of an open home. Sometimes there’s water rushing through, as the impact of Hurricane Katrina comes out in the work. Other times, one can see a landscape through the walls, as she seeks an openness that her closed-off, air-conditioned home in the humid heat of New Orleans lacked.
Looking closely at each painting, one can always find a bit of canvas peeking through. Similar to her desire to open the walls and ceilings of the houses she paints, she leaves open spaces in her paintings. Her love of open windows that she longed for growing up comes through and she is unable to suffocate the painting. As she matures, her tendency towards openness increases. “The paintings are getting thinner,” Evans noted. “I like to see the canvas between everything. If you clog up every pore, it can’t breathe.”
Each painting dances with movement and color. No two works are the same, and each has a way of making inanimate objects come alive with personality. They emerge from her layers of colors playing with each other. She paints carefully, not allowing herself to bury the beautiful things that are laid down in her first strokes. She doesn’t allow the past to weigh down her work, but uses it to enhance it while still remaining positive. Even in her paintings about Katrina, she looks forward. “These aren’t paintings about mourning, they’re paintings of rebirth—that out of tragedy comes a solution and hope,” Evans said.
The glass table in her studio is littered with bright tubes of paint, her diverse palette thick with playful colors. Looking at “Parade,” hanging besides a window opening into her backyard, it’s hard to say which is more alive — the foliage on the other side of the glass, or the palm trees swaying in her painting. The vivacity in her work can easily be traced back to Evans’ own energy. It enhances her ability to manipulate colors and shapes to feel like they are breathing the open air between her brush strokes and drawing life from it.
Look out for more of Carolyn Evans’ work around local galleries and visit her website to view her work at http://www.evansartstudio.com.