To most people, a stack of dishes and miscellaneous counter-top clutter signals a pesky chore that needs to be done. To Thor Evenson, that same scene offers an array of forms, designs and structures that have captivated his interest and inspired his art since he was a child.
Evenson, who grew up in Kenai, has been fascinated by shapes and structural elements for as long as he can remember. When he was 18 months old, his mother discovered that giving him magazines to look at and pencils and paper to draw with was a sure-fire way to keep him occupied. Since then, Evenson's love of shape and design has translated into a bachelor's degree in art, a master's degree in architecture, a penchant for boat building, an interest in various artistic mediums, a successful design business and, most recently, a painting exhibition at Kenai Peninsula College's Art Gallery.
Drawing has been a life-long occupation for Evenson, from which other pursuits have developed. As a child he started by recreating shapes he saw around him -- everything from buildings to the folds of clothing. He branched out into cartooning, doing figure studies of hands and bodies and designing.
"I drew because I liked the way shapes went together," Evenson said. "I was so intrigued by those shapes. It was very interesting. Drawing was kind of like wallowing in the way those shapes interacted."
Boats were of particular interest to Evenson, because he liked the way the planes of the hull, deck and other elements intersected, he said. Evenson had an abundance of examples to study, since he commercial fished with his parents beginning in 1956 and by himself in 1964. In fourth grade, he built himself a platform raft. In seventh grade, he made a seaworthy vessel to explore the lakes and waterways around his parents' homestead. By the time he was 14, Evenson was designing and constructing museum-quality model boats of balsa wood. In 1976 his father bought a new boat to salmon fish off of and Evenson remodeled the old one to use himself. At one point he even set up a boat yard in Port Townsend, Wash., with other fishers and built boats.
While in grade school and high school, Evenson continued to draw and design. He didn't take any art classes, but thanks to his father, Jim Evenson of Nikiski, being an artist and art teacher, he did acquire some formal knowledge of art. Evenson often would wander into the room where his dad was painting. When he was in fourth grade his dad gave him a set of old paints so he could get familiar with the medium.
"I was around my dad a lot," Evenson said. "If any teen-ager could say they had to be stuck with their father 24-hours a day, my dad was the best person in the world to do that with."
The first time he took an actual art class was when he was pursuing an art degree in college. After college, he spent a few years in Europe playing professional basketball. After that, he returned to the United States to study architecture in graduate school in Seattle. Following a degree in art by pursuing architecture was a natural progression for Evenson, as was becoming an artist.
"Most the things that I've done -- boat design, graphics, architecture, and art itself -- it's sort of something I've always done in a way and expanded it as I got older," he said. "I never really made a career choice, it was just something I always did."
The pursuits that developed out of Evenson's interest in shape and form can be seen in his art work. The KPC show is a collection of acrylic and mixed-media paintings. Several pieces display Evenson's interest and background in fishing.
Evenson currently spends his winters in Anchorage running his architectural consultant business, Evenson Designs. During the summer salmon fishing season, he returns to fish in the Cook Inlet out of Kenai.
"That's my spiritual break from the other part of the world," Evenson said of fishing. "I really enjoy it more and more. It's a contrast with the rest of the year working. ... I like to be on the boats, getting out there and getting away from it. And there's interesting people. I grew up with them -- it's like a family reunion every year. The images of that world are kind of food for painting and drawing too."
"Moonlight," a mixed media piece by Thor Evenson.
One of the fishing-inspired pieces is "Columbia Wards Circus," done in acrylic. According to Evenson, the piece is a reflection of the Kenai cannery in the '50s and '60s. The piece is packed with depictions of a multitude of cannery activities, like boats unloading their catch and fish processors working on a canning line. There is a historical aspect to the work that is part reminiscence for Evenson and part stream of consciousness. It is the stream of consciousness aspect and the cartoonist style in which it is painted that gives the piece an abstract quality, which Evenson likes to explore in his work.
"I have a fairly large amount of interest in (the abstract)," he said. "Combining images, the content has a certain flavor in the way they kind of fit together. There's an accidental sort of relationship that comes from stream of consciousness. I like the way the shapes go together, but not like they have some grand scheme. It's kind of a sensual type thing."
In addition to the fishing-themed paintings, there are several abstract collage and mixed media works in the show. Since the designs of these are abstract, the shapes and forms in them are not hindered by any specific conventional image so it is easy to appreciate them on their own. One of the mixed media pieces, "Moonlight," looks like stained glass in the way the design is segmented.
"Sunday Supplement" is one of the collage pieces. Evenson used newspaper and magazine clippings along with paint and other materials to construct it.
"I like the idea of things out of context," Evenson said. "I like the idea of taking a drawing from part of a magazine or newspaper and carrying it into some sort of perspective as a drawn thing. Having something out of context and sort of drawing (the elements) together has a kind of a mystical quality, kind of like a three-dimensional quality."
There are a few portraits in the show as well. One, "Archie Sunrise," is from a photograph of a long-time Kenai fisher Evenson knew growing up. "Figure Study" is a female nude sitting on a stool. Evenson used his own knowledge of physiology from studying anatomy to paint the figure, rather than using a model, he said. "Mystery Woman" is painted from a model. The angels of her body, the folds of her clothing and the vivid colors Evenson used make up the most striking elements of this piece. Evenson decided to include it in the show because he liked its overall composition, he said.
The 24 pieces Evenson chose for the show come from his long history of producing art. Some were painted recently, others were done a decade or longer ago and some have been works in progress for several years.
"Some of it is actually finished recently but started 20 years ago," he said. "The ones that don't work so well, it seems like I'll fiddle with them a little while then they sit for years. When a show comes up they come loose from the grip of reluctance. Something happens and I kind of like them and finish them."
Evenson doesn't paint on a regular basis. On occasion he is hired through his design business to create a mural, design a logo or do something else artistic. When he's in between projects he occasionally uses his free time to paint, sculpt, draw or do some other kind of art, but it can be years in between those stretches, he said.
"Mystery Woman," by Thor Evenson.
"I'm sort of surprised there's as much stuff as there is because I don't do it that much," he said. "I kind of dabble in it more than I think."
The title of Evenson's exhibition is "The Sea and Other Roads," so named for the various subjects represented in the pieces. If Evenson did paint more often he would produce more work and the show might have a more cohesive style, however it would rob viewers of the variety that exists in the somewhat eclectic collection of paintings.
"The variety is more of an indication of the different times I (paint), the whim or mood I'm in at the time or what's interesting to me at that time," Evenson said. "The variety itself is interesting in how they all relate to each other."
Evenson's show, "The Sea and Other Roads," will be on display at the Kenai Peninsula College Art Gallery until Nov. 24. Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.