Safe As Houses

Colorful and expressive paintings explore memories of fishing the Louisiana Gulf coast with her father, or wandering the port of New Orleans to view the small boats and large container ships that filled the Mississippi. Houses sit perched at the edge of these watery vistas-- reoccurring symbols of a safe place where children can be nurtured and grow.

Ironically, she couldn't wait to leave her childhood home. A conflicted relationship with her parents enforced Evans' desire to leave a society that she saw discriminating against Blacks and against her personally-- both as a Jew and as a woman. "From the age of fifteen, I was ready to run away," she remembers when describing her life before coming north for college. "I couldn't wait to be free."

Settling outside Boston to raise her family, Evans was determined to make her home on a hill "a joyous, hopeful place," to which her children might "want to come back." But in her mind, she nursed the idea of returning to New Orleans, an idea that began to seem possible when her mother died and her childhood home stood empty. But not five months after her mother's death, Hurricane Katrina removed this possibility. Evans sold what remained of her flooded home, filled with doubt that she'd ever return there to live.

But memory is a powerful thing, forcing the painter to meditate on deceptively naive shapes that make loss visible. In The Cumquat Tree Thrives, the viewer sees a house nearly obscured by a cumquat tree--all that remained when flooding destroyed the exotic garden that her mother had filled with fruit trees and tropical plants.

In the Edge depicts a ship cruising past houses rising on stilts from the middle of a swamp, a seemingly benign landscape tempered by our knowledge that those commercial vessels compromised the ecology of the region. Day at the Breach reveals the deceptive calm after the storm when placid, sunlit waters break through the levee to destroy New Orleans. Reaching back into childhood, Evans paints an old slave shack on her family's sugar plantation, where their cook once lived. Placed at the top of a patchwork composition of fields and river--a conscious nod to the quilt-making traditions among women in the Afro-American community-- Lovey's House , promises that home and memory might somehow be put together and made right.

Much has been made of the simplified shapes, which Evans has used throughout her career. She has been consistently compared to Picasso and Klee, painters also inspired by children's art. Although Evans insists that he was "not one of my heroes," a discerning viewer will see the influence of Hofmann in her carefully composed, and carefully selected, blocks of color. Like Rothko, a painter whom Evans does admire, she uses shape and color to generate emotion--shape and color that gather force when viewed abstractly. Although her pictures tell a story, we must be mindful that narrative is only part of what Evans sets out to explore.

Evans is fond of saying that painting is "an act of desperation." Recent work reveals that she is an artist desperate to remember--and equally desperate to forget. In an attempt to make light of what was an ecological and emotional disaster, she refers to Katrina as "the show of shows." Smash Hit describes the flood's dramatic impact in the glow of a red sun setting between battered palms. Opening Night shows a large white cloud enveloping the top of a house that is surrounded by rising water. In painting after painting, Evans describes a complex idea of home as a place where you might not wish to physically return, but are devastated when return is no longer possible.

Katherine French, Director Danforth Museum of Art