Art Review: Colorful pieces best on larger scale
By Fredric Koeppel
Posted March 11, 2011
Visit Harrington Brown Gallery on a gray gloomy day, of which there seem to be an abundance this month, and you will be revitalized by the brilliantly colored paintings of Leya Evelyn. On display through April 5, these abstract pieces glow within their square or rectangular shapes in vivid greens and blues, reds and oranges, drenched with saturated hues like beacons of enigmatic friendliness.
Evelyn is an American who moved to Nova Scotia in the early 1980s. Though widely exhibited in Canada, the Northeast and Europe, she has not shown her work in the South, and we are fortunate to have it here for the next few weeks.
In 1959 and ’60, the artist studied at Yale with German-born American artist Josef Albers (1888-1976), whose experiments with color juxtaposition offer an appeal to rational order that is somehow both Germanic and Zen-like. (Memphis Brooks Museum of Art has one of his “Homage to the Square” paintings in its collection, executed in 1957 and purchased in 1960 by Art Today.)
Not for Evelyn, however, is her teacher’s meticulously geometrical approach; her paintings are brash and bright, gestural and layered (with pigment and fabric collage elements), each color, mark and swath a testimony to its own making, so the painting is not only an object of contemplation but also a history of itself.
The artist’s approach produces best results on a scale large enough for her generous vision to flex its muscles and resolve itself, even while she allows a few loose ends here and there, so neither the paintings nor we the viewers become complacent. At sizes ranging from 42-by-42 inches to 60-by-60 inches or even 60-by-80, there’s sufficient room for a blending of intonations, meaning that the same picture plane may contain, like a map of an unknown continent, passages of sunny tranquility, sly wit and dark confusion. These pieces display the confidence of an artist of long practice, sure hand, steady eye — and a penchant for playfulness.
Less successful are smaller pieces (Every gallery owner, it seems, wants examples of compact, more affordable art, and who can blame them?) that feel constricted and truncated. In fact, at 12-by-12 inches, the four paintings in the “Redirecting” series seem eagerly and anxiously to be redirecting our attention to the more satisfying larger works.
Good examples of those are in Evelyn’s “I Knew about It Anyway” series, each of which offers not only the business and busyness — she doesn’t shy away from some fussy, slightly glamorized details — of the artist’s manner but also a few “gotcha” moments, as if she were saying to viewers, “Beautiful stuff, huh, but I told you so!”
These paintings, at a comfortable 46-by-46 inches, present dominant fields of mottled, worked-over pigment — blue, green, yellow, snow-white — whose expanses are whittled at the edges by patches of flowered cloth, hastily rendered circles and squares and the artist’s signature motif, the rough oval, sometimes traced in paint with the tiny, rounded end of the brush handle, more frequently painted in black or blue, orange or pink or white.
The oval theme, both soft enclosure and quick gesture, anchors these paintings, from one to the other, but occasionally falls into mechanical utterance, even glibness. Perhaps a more sparing use would lend the device more power. Overall, however, they contribute a unifying force to an exhibition that already revels in strength and complexity.
Passion & Pain
Contemporary quartet: Lukova, Evelyn, Broughel, and Inscho.
by CAROL KNOWLES
A New Yorker for years, now living in Nova Scotia and exhibiting across Europe, Canada, and the U.S., Leya Evelyn paints like she lives — experimentally, with daring, and open to new possibilities.
The nuanced, layered, scumbled, and scraped surfaces of Evelyn’s “Recent Paintings” at Harrington Brown Gallery allow us to see her visions unfold as sunlight moves across a weathered facade in Wilder By Far, no. 2, as almost impenetrable darkness falls across the right panel of the triptych Chance Meetings, and as passions are laid bare on the scraped saturate-red surface of I Knew About It Anyway, no. 5.
The circles and ovals that often appear in Evelyn’s work are not geometrically exact symbols suggesting eternity or cycles of nature or elliptical orbits of planets that change little over millennia. Somewhere between line and form, between object and abstraction, Evelyn has developed a highly personal language of gesture that feels inflected with emotion and new ideas: frayed rope-like lines hang loosely then knot up in I Knew About It Anyway, no. 1, uncoil and reach up in Tell Me the Reason, no. 2.
Along the edges of many of Evelyn’s paintings tiny pieces of fabric are collaged next to equally small swatches of color. You may find yourself moving into and stepping back from these paintings again and again as you explore works so rich and evocative, each centimeter of their borders is a fully realized work of art.
No Hidden Meaning shows Evelyn at best
By ELISSA BARNARD Arts Reporter Published 2009-11-26
Leya Evelyn’s new paintings are bold and concise and clear in her latest exhibit. There is No Hidden Meaning Here.
The title is a bit of a misnomer since Evelyn, working in oil and collage, hides pieces of cloth under paint so they look like bandages or so much past history. She reveals just fragments of letters and fabric patterns.
Yet her paintings are so powerful in colour and energy that they are clear in a deeply felt way.
This exhibit, at Secord Gallery through Sunday, reveals Evelyn at the top of her form in a fine though subtle balance in abstract composition and consistent visual language.
In these paintings she often uses a circle of scrawled line that has the energy of a coil ready to spring. It sits in the wide space of a colour-saturated surface like a tumbleweed in the desert.
Like Nova Scotia abstract expressionist painter Wayne Boucher, she creates a vast space in one rich colour and then defines that space with markers of scrawled lines, stripes, small blocks of colour like paint chips and occasionally masses of miniature balls in one part of the painting.
Tell Me The Reason has a side bar of playful horizontal strips of colour that appear to dive beneath a sandy blank surface. As Befits the Matter, No. 1, has an intoxicating deep green/black surface punched up with red shapes.
While some painting shave subdued overall surfaces in blacks or sands, others go kapow in colour like Do You Have Another Idea, No. 2. This is a painting that dances in deep yellow with a highly kinetic coil of pale pink and purple-blue lines and, in an upper corner, a hint of a leopard animal print.
Overall colour sings out with Evelyn’s sunny yellows and passionate reds, a delicious chalky blue-purple and a buoyant, heart-throbbing magenta.
Evelyn’s paintings are both contemplative and conversational and she gives them leading titles like Transitory Currents of Everyday Life, Measuring the Importance and Anything Else. These works are guaranteed to keep giving back more information the longer you look at them.
Born in Washington, D.C. and educated at both Brown and Yale universities in the United States, Leya Evelyn moved to Nova Scotia in the early 1980’s. This exhibit can also be seen on the gallery’s website at secordgallery.com.