Music to the eyes

In abstract work, painter feels free to improvise

Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2005


  Jim Evenson's "Dancing Trees" is on display at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

Jim Evenson's "Dancing Trees" is on display at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

When Jim Evenson poises over blank paper with paintbrush in hand, no one can guess what the finished product will look like — sometimes not even Evenson himself.

But that's all part of the experience of painting, he said.

"Sometimes I start out painting a picture of girls with trees and it'll turn into something different, it'll turn into an abstraction, and I don't know why," he said. "Once an artist starts painting — at least I think the artists I admire — the way they paint is to follow the painting's lead a certain degree and let the painting take them where they will.

"Usually I see some kind of light at the end of a dark tunnel, but I don't really know what'll happen along the way."

Evenson, a lifelong artist, retired art teacher, commercial fisher and North Kenai homesteader, has great experience painting Cook Inlet landscapes, fishing scenes and other realistic images and has taken up the printmaking art of stone lithography, but for his current show on display at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, he chose abstract paintings.

Abstract — or, technically, nonobjective — painting gives Evenson a freedom he doesn't experience when involving realistic images in his work.

"It's a form of pure expression," he said, one that he compares to jazz.

"It's like in instrumental music where you don't have any words. If you don't have any subject matter, you are free to express yourself in the elements of art — line, form, texture and color. You're expressing your feelings through those, but without any subject matter."

Some pieces contain images that are recognizable, like the suggestion of ships in his "Saga: Departure" and "Saga: Land Fall." In the triptych "Dancing Trees," figures that Evenson highlighted in white do seem to writhe against their surroundings. He said he often accents movement with white paint as a final touch to highlight the whole painting and pull it in the direction he wants it to go.

Other clues as to what the pieces might represent are found in the titles, like "Driving Around Oahu" for an image with a tropical feel. But the titles often are given after paintings are done and are meant only to give viewers some insight into the artist's thoughts about the piece, Evenson said.

In his artist's statement for the show, Evenson said viewers should look closely at the paintings to see their "soul," which "lies deep within where the colors and shapes take on a life of their own."

There is no lack of depth to study when looking at Evenson's work, since his painting technique lends itself to multiple layers, as does the medium of acrylic paint.

"Acrylics allow you to build up these layers," he said. "The lower layer kind of shines through and gives you a special kind of beauty when you do that."

Evenson usually paints abstracts with broad strokes on paper that is laid out flat, giving his work a strong sense of movement.

"I tend to work with pretty big, vigorous arm movements rather than little picky finger movements," he said.

To create texture, he uses a wet wash technique borrowed from his stone lithography work that involves laying broad strokes of diluted paint onto the paper.

The excess water dries from one end of the paint stroke to the other, leaving a mark with radiating ringlets that fade along the length of the stroke.

"It's a semi-controlled pro-cess that just happens, the paint and water just do that," he said. "... You gently lay down an area and as the paint dries it forms these beautiful little textures for you."

Some paintings, like "Chi-cago Woman," are such frenetic entanglements of colors, textures, splatters and strokes that it's impossible to tell where one layer ends and another begins, whereas others, like "Besame Mucho," are more sparse and serene. Evenson said he doesn't plan to do one type or the other when he begins painting.

"Each kind has its own beauty and it's hard to say ahead of time what will work best," he said. "Sometimes I've put down rough ideas, and I like it so much that way I knew I would ruin it if I added thicker paint. Sometimes it's just the opposite and I had to keep working on it and working on it."

Abstracts allow Evenson to indulge in vibrant colors, more so than he does in other paintings. In his early years of painting, Evenson tended to paint with a realistic color palette, which, in Cook Inlet, involves a lot of gray and muted colors, he said. That changed when he went to Spain on a sabbatical for a year and met other artists who talked him into broadening his palette.

"I think probably in painting abstracts I don't feel limited to the colors you normally see in landscapes here," he said. "I think that when I'm painting a landscape or seascape my colors are definitely more quiet."

Deciding when to stop working on a piece is as difficult with abstracts as it can be with any other type of painting, Evenson said.

"You never really know. You think you know, then sometimes you'll walk up on a painting and it'll surprise you and you see something you want to add," he said.

His rule of thumb is to quit while you're ahead.

"Don't overwork it. The first time you think it might be done, stop working on it," he said.

His hope is that the abstracts give viewers a chance to appreciate the elements of art without being distracted by realistic images.

"I don't like to desert subject matter entirely," he said. "... (But this show) is so people wouldn't have to look for fishing boats or cabins on the river bank or people fishing, they could just enjoy the pure art of it."

Evenson's show will be on display through Saturday.

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