Sweet ‘Art Interviews Evelyn Jean – by Charlotte Elliston

Sweet ‘Art has worked with and exhibited hundreds of amazing artists over the years. You’ll see their work on our social media and website, and if you are able to make it to some of our exhibitions, you’ll see their work in real life and maybe get to meet them.

We know that lots of our followers, readers, and friends aren’t able to come and see all of our exhibitions in person. You might have loads of questions about some of our artists, and their work. So we have decided to bring some of our wonderful artists to you – through the medium of blog! Over the next year or so, we will be talking to a varied selection of visual artists about their work and career and will be publishing the results right here.

First up, I went to meet Evelyn Jean in the Hawksmoor bar in Knightsbridge. Evelyn has been exhibiting in Sweet ‘Art shows for 5 years. His work first came to our attention when he entered our open submission for our Seams exhibition, and it has continued to intrigue  and excite us ever since.

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Artist Evelyn Jean

Evelyn Jean had an early creative influence in the form of his mother, who was a painter. However, like many of us when we are young, he wanted to be a “rock ‘n roll star” and his early career developed into a musical one. He was front man in a band which gathered a cult following, but found that the compromise needed when creating with a group of people left him unsatisfied artistically; having seen work by the performance artist Marina Abramovic, Evelyn was keen to introduce elements of performance art into his music, feeling that much of what he wanted to communicate with an audience was ‘unspoken’ and could (or should) not be easily communicated via the lyrics of a song.

From the world of music, Evelyn Jean first began his visual art career making films. You can view a selection of these on his website, and also informed me that these were part of a recent exhibition called L’Age D’Or at the Kunstkapel in Amsterdam. Watching the films at home, I can see his rejection of the verbal, as many of his films (which all feature himself as the main protagonists) are in the form of the early cinema’s silent films. The actor communicates emotion and plot via his facial expression and movement within the frame, whilst the soundtrack sets the mood and tone. I particularly enjoyed his film First Date which starts off as a light, humorous piece about a man falling in love with a mannequin – almost rom-com in tone (and yes, I AM a fan of 80’s classic Mannequin), then degenerates into a dark take on the Pygmalion myth, and finally ends as something more akin to Bride of Chucky. The fact that it draws on these filmic tropes to explore objectification and sexual violence towards women makes it an interesting piece for us Sweet ‘Arts. Evelyn says that he feels his films often come from a darker place than his paintings, dealing more directly with fear and trauma and expressing these as an actor as well as an artist.

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Still from First Date (2013)

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Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon Gérôme (Image courtesy of The MET)

From his filmmaking, Evelyn then began to move towards painting. He has had no formal training in painting, he “just went to Cass Art, bought some canvas and paint and said let’s go!”. He says he found having no training difficult – isolated from the artworld and having no contacts, he almost gave up. (We are rather glad he didn’t). He says that drawing is only a very small part of his practice – unlike many artists, he doesn’t sit and sketch, and prefers to write. I find this interesting as text and words do seem key to his work, both in his films (where it is used either as subtitles at the bottom of the screen, or flashcards to introduce a scene) and paintings. In paintings such as Abandoned Parisian Rescue 79, the text ‘Please forgive me I can no longer live with my nerves’ is emblazoned across the top third of the canvas, whilst two (?) figures sit in the back seat of a car, possibly chased by a man with a torch. Are they running away from a sinister figure, or criminals being chased by the law? Does the text express their feelings, or ours? The painting comes from a series titled What is the Script and Evelyn Jean’s relationship to film, narrative and language can be seen throughout this series by his use of storytelling, framing and other filmic devices.

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Abandoned Parisian Rescue 79 (2017)

The play with language and text can also be seen in the unusual (and sometimes long) titles of this work. Evelyn says that the titles sometimes come before the painting and spark the idea to begin a new piece of work. The words can be drawn from the lyrics of a song, or even something like a sports interview, which seem relevant to another aspect of life. He says that he wants the titles of the work to help explain something of the painting, or the feelings behind it.

Lots of the titles of his earlier works are in French, which he studied for 5 years as part of a French Studies course at the Institut Francais and from this has a love of French new-wave cinema. He says that lack of confidence in the early stages of his career led to the use of the French language to title his work – he could say what he wanted to say but still remain hidden. The first work he submitted to us at Sweet ‘Art was the piece Je sais maintenant que le vie est pourrie. As none of us involved in the selections speaks French, the initial meaning was certainly hidden to us. I recall we then used Google translate to find out it means I now know that life sucks and felt the ‘Oh I get it’ moment of being included in the work.

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Je sais maintenant que le vie est pourrie (2014)

Much of Evelyn’s work explores themes of marginalisation. He says that he doesn’t like the way the artworld is headed and rejects the over-commodification of fine art. He sums up his thoughts on the art market as “white walls, white faces, white wine”, feels that gallery space has become completely unaffordable in London for artists looking to self-organise, and aims for his work to subtly critique this. He feels that, as a Londoner, his work should reflect the city and its diversity. He makes a conscious decision to paint all ethnicities he sees in his work, as there is lots of artwork (even contemporary art) displayed in London where everyone in the painting is white.

Evelyn defines himself as from a working-class background and would love to see art going in the direction where the people he grew up with would be interested in art. He feels that one of the issues art has is that it is either seen as street-art or art for rich people. His recently completed piece This is the Dizziness of Freedom shows the disconnect Evelyn sees in society today. The two sides of the painting show a factory and glass office towers overshadowing a terraced street, with a sports stadium at the end. The painting explores ideas of the fear of difference and change, the two opposing sides of the street representing the affluent middle classes (the businessman and the hipster) separated and looking across at the more ‘run-down’ houses where the black family and the pensioner live. He describes the stadium as representing the structures people build as a means of escapism from everyday lives and jobs they hate, but also acknowledges that people tie themselves down to avoid the fear of having too much choice.

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This is the Dizziness of Freedom (2018/19)

Sport is a surprising element which crops up as a recurring theme in Evelyn’s work. I say surprising, but am also sure that this stems from my own assumptions and prejudices, as why should artists not also have an interest in sport. He is a keen basketball fan, although doesn’t like sports culture. His piece They tell me that it’s real, then ask me how I feel? features a hairdresser or stylist trying different heads onto a body for size, while a basketball falls through a hoop. Evelyn says that the piece is about being unable to face reality, and wanted to emphasise the fragility of the heads by reflecting the size and shape of them with the falling basketball.

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They tell me that it’s real, then ask me how I feel? (2017/18)

With his work, Evelyn Jean hopes that the viewer is able to see aspects of their own life reflected back at them. He says that he aims to paint with emotion rather than technical brilliance, and hopes that this is that is communicated to the viewer. He says “If you see someone spending time with it, it leads a life of its own”

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Evelyn Jean’s work was also part of Sweet ‘Art’s Game Face exhibition in 2017

When I ask him what is coming next, he says he has ideas for some new work in the form of installations, although is limited by space in his studio (always a problem in London!). He also has plans to create some new film pieces and has just started work on a large painting titled The Death of the Novelist, inspired by the repeated questioning from the critics as to whether the ‘death’ of painting, art or the novel is due.

He will also be exhibiting work as part of the exhibition Art Can Presents: Encounters at the D Contemporary Gallery in Mayfair in May, where you will be able to see his piece This is the Dizziness of Freedom for yourselves.

Follow Evelyn on Twitter, Insta or his website http://www.evelynjean.com.

All images are copyright Evelyn Jean unless otherwise stated.

The problem with Frieze Week ’18 by Sian Matthews

 

That title is a little misleading because I did actually have a really great time at Frieze London. It has been over a month now since the fair and I have had plenty of time to contemplate it all, although there is one thing that has been playing on my mind that I would like to discuss. But let’s start on a good note! This year was my first time attending the art fair itself, although I have explored the sculpture park in previous years, and thanks to Sweet ‘Art I had a press pass!

This year Frieze week had a huge focus on women in the arts. Frieze itself commissioned some large-scale artworks, installations and performances such as Tatiana Trouvé’s ‘The Shaman’ (pictured below) a 1.2 tonne bronze tree and water pump. It was one of the first things I saw as I went into the fair and it definitely commanded the attention it was receiving.

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At the other end of the fair there was a curated section of stands showcasing the work of 9 female artists who had used their work as a form of political activism in the 80s and 90s called ‘Social Work’ I quite enjoyed Social Work as it was diverse on all levels, including race, age, backgrounds and even mediums and subject matter. The section included artists such as Nancy Spero, Helen Chadwick, Berni Searle and Ipek Duben; artists who use the female experience and themes of sexuality, gender, alienation and identity to challenge both aesthetic and political conventions. It worked really well and was an insightful look into the practice of some very influential artists. I was also lucky enough to wander past just as Sonia Boyce was giving an interview about her work! (I won’t lie, I felt a little starstruck!) It was fascinating to listen in and hear what she had to say about the motives and messages behind her work and what she thought of Social Work itself.

The stand I connected with most in Social Work was the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery who were showcasing the work of Mary Kelly. ‘Interim Part 1: Corpus’ is the culmination of 3 years of documentation by Kelly of conversations she had with women of her generation and displays their words in first-person text panels alongside screen printed images of fashion ads and medical photography of ‘hysterical women’. It feels personal and almost candid in its delivery, you get the feeling you’re reading something like a diary entry, something you shouldn’t be reading, and I appreciated the fact I was being told something so intimate.

The one thing that really disappointed me about Social Work is that it was hyped up quite a lot beforehand, but then felt like it was squished into a corner at the actual event. I would have preferred it to have had a more prominent spot in the fair.

Another nice touch to the fair this year was a fund-raising event hosted by Tracey Emin in the form of a postcard auction, with the proceeds going to women’s charities. Although unfortunately I didn’t manage to catch any of it!

Elsewhere in the city, galleries such as White Cube, Victoria Miro, the Parasol Unit and even the RA celebrated women by opening exhibitions and installations of works by artists such as Yayoi Kusama (who I love but sadly missed out on tickets for!), Cornelia Parker brought her PsychoBarn installation to the courtyard of the RA, Heidi Bucher and her beautifully haunting latex skinnings, and Doris Salcedo (pictured below) at White Cube. Women really did take over London for Frieze week!

 

On the Friday night I attended The Other Art Fair which also had a whole section dedicated to female artists. They had their own building across the road from Victoria House which was designed to be a statement called ‘not 30%’ to draw attention to the fact women typically get only 30% representation in art fairs. I thought it was a great idea (although I wasn’t sure about segregating them in another building away from the main event), and there was a diverse selection of work, from painting and sculpture to taxidermy and even tattooing. I so badly wanted to get a tattoo by artist Emily Malice but I missed her by a couple of hours as Friday night was the only time she wasn’t there! (maybe next time!)

Whilst we were there we also met two recent graduates who had turned their stall into a fun and inviting participatory project.  As Illustrators, they were drawing visitors to the art fair as any animal of their choosing for a small donation, so obviously we had to take part! See us below as a cat, a leopard and a jellyfish!

 

Overall I think The Other Art Fair may have been more enjoyable on a social level. More interactive, more inviting, it was more appealing to a wider spectrum of people. Dare I say more inclusive?

All of this sounds great doesn’t it? Women finally getting the recognition they so badly deserve. So going back to my clickbait title, where is the problem?

What has been playing on my mind is the idea that all of this new attention from large institutions, galleries and companies is just a form of box ticking, it felt like they were just ticking women off their inclusion list. I am not really sure of the exact thing that made me feel like this, maybe it’s the fact that both art fairs felt the need to over-publicise their inclusion of women and make a song and dance about it as if for attention; to be seen to be doing the right thing instead of recognising the issues faced by female artists, educating themselves and making the necessary changes. Obviously, I’m not saying we shouldn’t shout about the needs and rights of women in this industry, its massively important to talk about it! There was just something about Frieze week that made me feel like the motives behind it were off.  As you all must know by now, 2018 marks 100 years since the first women in the UK won the right to vote. This means that women’s rights are very much the theme of the year. It means that right now equality and women’s rights seem to be a bit of a fashion statement unfortunately and these companies need to be seen to be doing the right thing or they face huge backlash.

While I think its amazing what happened at this year’s Frieze week, and I certainly do not want to belittle the success of the artists featured. I can’t shake the feeling that we should all be a little wary of the motives and the intentions behind this sudden push for women. I am worried that next year this will all go away and no real progress will have been made. I hope I am wrong.

I have taken a photo of an article written in the free art news paper given out at the Frieze art fair itself which I feel sums up my feelings well and highlighted certain points for you. I feel it quite clearly explains why the focus of this years Frieze week only felt skin deep.

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Let me know what you think, am I just being pessimistic? Did you visit Frieze or any of the other events going on that week and what was your experience? I’d really like to know.

Great work at Goldsmiths BA shows by Charlotte Elliston

Continuing our round of visits to check out the degree shows, I popped along to the Goldsmiths BA shows which included Fine Art, Art Psychotherapy, Design and Communication and more. Unusually, the shows were spread all over the site so it really felt like the whole campus was involved. Now I’m not biased, just because I am currently studying here, but I thought the work was fantastic and have ended up with too many favourites to show them all so here are just a few examples.

Grace Buttall’s large paintings of everyday themes had a wonderful use of colour and there seemed to be something humorous but poignant in the characters she depicts.

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Grace Buttall, Disco I and Disco II

This was a piece by Susana Diaz Perez in which a white forest had been created, suspended from the ceiling and was trailing tendrils towards the floor.

Susana Diaz Perez, Artificially White

Susana Diaz Perez, Artificially White

Always a sucker for 8mm or 16mm film, this was a beautiful projection by Katie Miller onto a screen constructed of cardboard.

Katie Miller, Zoe and the Fish

Katie Miller, Zoe and the Fish

Woonhae Yea’s interactive piece was a show highlight for many. A scaffolding construction was created with a grass platform inside. Viewers could climb inside to pop their heads through holes and look around into this unusual piece.

Woonhae Yea, Untitled

Woonhae Yea, Untitled

Prize for the most unsettling piece in the show goes to Michael Clements, whose film piece was a rendering of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, where Chris Tarrant was asking questions of a humanoid figure who was possibly answering them telepathically. In a dark room, full of viewers silently watching, this was a very unnerving piece to see.

Michael Clements, Untitled

Michael Clements, Untitled

Sunhee Kim’s work was a selection of beautifully created photographs featuring young women in slightly awkward positions. Hung, so that the women appeared as if standing, there was ambiguity as to how the photograph had been taken, creating a tension which gave these images much more depth.

One of Sunhee Kim's photographs

One of Sunhee Kim’s photographs

Last but not least, Fina Schneider’s film installation showed what we assume was the artist and a friend shaving their legs in unlikely places. Those that know the fountains of London would recognize the Barbican and fountain by Kings Cross among other venues. This was an interesting exploration of private ritual and how it interacts with the public sphere.

Fina Schneider, Shaving Our Legs in a River

Fina Schneider, Shaving Our Legs in a River

The show is on until Monday 22 June, so make sure you see it!