Carolyn Evans - An Artist Finds Her Place In The Eye Of The Storm

NATICK - Carolyn Evans couldn’t wait to escape her native New Orleans, yet on canvas after canvas she returns to the Gulf Coast.

Evans grew up feeling claustrophobic in a home where the windows were rarely opened, but houses are her favorite image.

She seethes with indignation over government culpability in the Katrina catastrophe, but whimsy rather than wrath infuses her artwork.

Evans’s contradictions may be as tangled as her thicket of dark hair, but spend an afternoon with the South Natick artist, and it all starts to make sense.

The Danforth Museum in Framingham is presenting Evans’s show “Katrina’s Third Birthday, No Cake” through Oct. 19. The title is playful, but with an edge - like her work and the woman herself.

After Katrina swamped her hometown, it was as if a levee burst inside Evans. Though she hasn’t lived in New Orleans for more than 40 years, the storm unleashed a torrent of emotions: fury at the environmental degradation that left New Orleans so vulnerable to catastrophe, contempt for the government’s abysmal response to the hurricane, and, on a personal level, anguish over the loss of the house that had been in her family since the ‘40s - a place that evokes memories both warm and bitter.

Not that any of this would be immediately apparent from her work. Evans is not one to browbeat viewers with messages. Rather, she chooses to be subtle and tongue-in-cheek, while sticking to the conviction that art should be timeless. “In the end, the painting has to work as a painting,” Evans says. The pictures “are political, but you don’t need to know that to appreciate them.”

Her husband and fellow artist, John Evans, describes her at work: “She starts with a Rorschachian mess, just throwing paint on the canvas - and then something will spark a memory.”

Carolyn Evans says she takes whatever happens to be on her palette and washes the canvases - which range from 10 inches to 70 inches in width - with color. She likens her sweeping motions to dancing, an art form she practiced when she was younger. While she paints, jazz echoes through her two-story-high studio, and she riffs along with the musicians. “You move from one area to the next until it starts to have some sort of composition, stuff happening,” Evans says. “Then you start pushing the composition.”

In “Night Watch,” the “stuff happening” happened to be the houses that took shape in the upper right of the canvas; the rest of the painting emerged from there. The roof of the house on the right started out as a random smudge. Only later did Evans realize that it resembles “a hat or a doo-rag.” “These things happen in paintings for me,” she says. “I don’t know why.”

Standing on stilts, with a tree in the foreground, the houses are “sort of dancing” the night away, she says. But the houses have a serious mission as well. “They are looking out on the water, telling the tree that he’s going to be all right. And he’s growing back. Houses abound in Evans’s work. “These houses are all me,” she says. “They’re autobiographical. I grew up in a dysfunctional house.”

Chris Bergeron, Metrowest Daily News