What are your main inspirations in art?
After graduating in 1981 from Syracuse University I moved into a 19th century farm on a ridge above the Susquehanna River in central PA. This farm was once part of a large property owned by my maternal grandparents. Perched on this property’s highest point and surrounded by 100 acres of old growth oak forest was a magnificent 4 story stone inn (named Roundtop). This was the primary residence of my grandparents and I spent many extraordinary summers there roaming the woods, collecting insects, bones, old bottles and all kinds of interesting artifacts. Experiencing the cycles of life, death, growth and decay first hand in this natural realm opened my sense of the wholeness of things in a way the suburbs couldn’t have. This place had a profound effect on me and is what ultimately drew me back there to raise a family and paint. This farm and the surrounding natural landscape is a starting point for almost all the concepts I deal with in my paintings.
Although my paintings deal metaphorically with universal themes they are inspired by and rooted in real places, experiences and memories. I think that this gives the work a sense of honesty, that the experiences have been truly lived, the memories and feelings deeply felt. I think the viewer can sense when something is entirely invented - it doesn’t feel authentic. By transforming common and real everyday occurrences, places and things into the universal it puts the work in a language that can be easily read and understood by anyone who has experienced or thought about those same things. It makes the work timeless. This is also why I choose the traditional language of realism - it allows the work to be more accessible to a wider audience.
What is your art background? (education, experience, etc)
I studied art at Syracuse University in New York and received a BFA there in 1981. The teacher there who had the biggest impact on me was Jerome Witkin, whose large multi-paneled narrative realist works were just beginning, at that time, to receive international attention. He is an extraordinary draftsman and I took every course I could with him while at Syracuse. I also spent a semester abroad in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, studying the paintings of Rembrandt, Vermeer and the great 17th century Dutch painters.
After leaving art school I found my own personal artistic voice fairly early in my career, with a series of drawings and paintings I produced in the early 1980’s depicting the interior of the farmhouse (located on my grandparent’s property in Pennsylvania) where I currently live with my family. These spare and uninhabited interiors were exhibited in Washington D.C. in my first solo show and, with the help of a positive review in the Washington Post, helped launch my career as an artist. My next body of work included night landscapes and multi paneled narrative paintings featuring insects as metaphorical elements. As I later married and had children, my recent work has begun to include my family as well, incorporating them in the compositions of large scale narrative/ figurative works including recent explorations of the triptych/altarpiece motif. Over the last decade my paintings have moved increasingly in the direction of dealing metaphorically with broader themes inspired by real places, experiences and memories, allowing the most common and everyday occurrences, places and things to be transformed into the universal, dealing with issues I face as an artist, parent, spouse and as a participant in life at this particular time in history.
I have had the good fortune to be able to work full time as an artist for more than 25 years now and have had many great adventures. Some highlights include: exhibiting at the Tretyakov Museum in Moscow and the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington, D.C., being included along side Andrew Wyeth and Andy Warhol in an exhibit of Pennsylvania artists that toured museums around the state of Pennsylvania 5 years ago, and recently seeing my work enter the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
In addition to painting full time I have also, on occasion, worked as an independent curator. In fact a traveling exhibit I organized and guest curated, "Visions of the Susquehanna: 250 Years of Paintings by American Masters" is currently on tour to several museums (it opens at the Roberson Museum in Binghamton, NY on May 15). This exhibit features more than 40 works depicting the Susquehanna by the greats of American landscape painting including Benjamin West, Thomas Moran, Jasper Cropsey and other Hudson River School masters plus contemporary works by such renowned painters as Mark Innerst, Debra Bermingham, Randall Exon and Leonard Koscianski. You can see more about this exhibit and other projects on my website: www.robevansart.net.
What is your process for creating your work?
The concept for a painting usually begins as a small sketch jotted down in response to something in my daily routine that catches my eye or imagination. It could be something very simple or mundane that I see, or even a passing thought or memory. Whatever it is, it is something that I recognize consciously or unconsciously as having the potential to say something more universal. These sketches are kept visible on a tabletop or in a sketchbook and can sit dormant for months or even years. Every time I see one of them, however, there’s a flash of excitement, a reminder of its potential that keeps the idea alive and germinating in the back of my mind. Ultimately, one of these concepts takes root and compels me to begin to develop the idea further - thus beginning a long journey of transformation and evolution that culminates in a finished work.
For example, with my monumental painting, Cicada, the idea began in 1994 with a small sketch of a cicada shedding its skin on a tree branch - inspired by the memory of the cicadas’ song vibrating through the treetops on the ridge at my grandparent’s home each summer and finding their papery translucent skins on the bark of the trees. The idea of metamorphosis and change intrigued me and became especially relevant later that year as that homestead, a place that seemed would always be a permanent and enduring fixture in my life, was sold out of the family and was completely remodeled and changed by its new owner. Suddenly the concept behind the painting took on a powerful new meaning and relevance - it became a way of dealing with and expressing my sense of loss over this place which was an enormous and important part of my childhood. In a way it became a realization and acceptance of the fact that all things, no matter how permanent they may seem, are ephemeral, and that life is in a constant state of flux. In a wonderful way the cicada metamorphosing became a metaphor for this process and I used it as the central image for the triptych.
What is the single most important thing you want to communicate with your work?
At the surface level I just want the viewer to enjoy each painting as a mysterious and beautiful physical object - a rich paint surface with a sense of history. Then as they enter into the illusory reality of the painted space they can enjoy the beauty and mystery of the subject matter itself and the way it is transformed by the artist’s vision and use of light. Finally, as they look deeper into the work, hopefully they begin to make connections within the work itself and with events in their own life. As this happens perhaps they begin to get the meaning I intended, or perhaps they find their own personal meaning for the work - each is valid. No matter what meaning they find, they will have lost themselves for a brief time in the painting, and, as a result, hopefully will leave it seeing the world in a slightly different way
What are your career goals?
From the "career" perspective my primary goals center around providing the support necessary to take care of my family and allow me to continue painting, full time, the work that I want to do. Career goals such as landing works in museums and prominent collections, showing in galleries, publicity in magazines etc. are all wonderful and certainly help feed the ego, but the bottom line is that in the end all this is really most useful for is in raising prices to a level that supports my work and my family.
What one object has been the most instrumental in helping you achieve what you have so far?
The " physical object" which has had the most influence on me is this property overlooking the Susquehanna River where our farm is located. As I mentioned earlier it has deep childhood connections, is where I am raising my family, and has been the inspiration for nearly all the work I do.
Tell me three random things about you.
*I enjoy playing the piano (blues and boogie woogie)
*We have an amazing dog named Harry (a Flat Coat Retriever) who we adopted from the pound.
*I had the thrilling opportunity last month to meet Antonio Lopez Garcia, who I feel is the most significant artist of our time (his work is currently on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts).