Only God can help the badly dressed. - Spanish Proverb
When Carolyn Evans comments on the role of color in her paintings she speaks as if getting dressed for an evening out. As she considers her palette she wants to know "what will go with this outfit." She'll point out an accent of green here and another of purple there that pull her composition together. Evans believes that "color is personal" adding that she "paints like I dress", and she is a well-dressed woman who enjoys the look and feel of good clothing. Fashion can be trivial or at least frivolous but clothing is another matter. How someone presents herself in the world can be frivolous, but it is never trivial. It was Oscar Wilde who pointed out the folly of failing to judge by appearances.
Evans's sense of color is bold. Her colors don't always "match" or go together in conventional ways. When they do blend the result is often playful. She favors bright, industrial-strength 20th century American color. Even in darker passages these colors are exuberant. When Evans tones down her palette she may remind you of a louder Milton Avery. At full throttle her color seems to have flared from the imagination of an especially rambunctious child, but it must be that she is a painter in tune with what she really likes to see.
Evans is a painter of imaginary landscapes and still lifes. She began as a sculptor, and she retains a sculptor's sense of form. Her houses-a preoccupation-are elemental: peaked roof, walls, a door and perhaps a window. They are being drawn right this minute in classrooms around the world where they are recognized as a sign of stability and emotional comfort, as home. In Evans's art they have a grounded foursquareness. Her houses are, in her words, "where I want to be." But they are also shells that can be placed in whatever landscape she fancies. In "Balancing Act" the house teeters on a huge boulder suggesting the essential precariousness of all our attempts to stay rooted in one place.
The homemade, clunky architecture of Evans's houses is like nothing this New Orleans native has ever lived in, but she places them in landscapes she has seen. "Imaginary landscapes?" "Seen." This is not the contradiction it seems. Growing up in the flat delta landscape of New Orleans instilled in Evans a love of hills and hills are a dominant landscape feature in many of her paintings. Since she lives and works in New England hills surround her, but she is not a painter who works or even sketches plein air. She has long had hills on the brain and now summons them up out of her mental landscape. The same is true of the trees that frequently appear in her paintings. These stubby, flaring upward unknown-to-botany trees have been a favorite form since childhood. That Evans who grew up beside the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchatrain is drawn to water is no surprise. (She also spent time in Magnolia on Boston's North Shore as a child.) Life by water, trees, houses and the curtain-like storms that swept across the flat horizons of her childhood are Evans's vocabulary. From these she creates landscapes that are physically present but on no map. They may connect with some view remembered from traveling. Or they may excite that area of the imagination where the words house, tree, etc. mean something even if we have no literal house or tree in mind.
For Carolyn Evans as for her audience the reality of what is on canvas has to be in the art itself. Painting of the sort Evans does is a through-the-looking-glass experience, one in which viewers expect to be transported, pulled through the mirror by her color and form. As for color Evans does not need God's aid. In terms of form she evokes a physicality that can be felt in both the tactile and emotional senses.
Perhaps the painter Evans most resembles at her best is Marsden Hartley. Like Hartley Evans can cause you to think that lack of tradition can be an American virtue. The American painter does not have to refine or overturn what has gone before. Her job-the most American of words-is to follow cheerfully or mordantly, depending on her temperament, what is personal in her engagement with the world she is determined to paint. It is never easy for artists to accept what they see for themselves. There are too many "standards" troubling their vision and causing doubt. In his landscape painting Hartley went for what he called "solidity of sensation." There is a similar drive and achievement in the paintings of Carolyn Evans.