Nancy Evans: Moonshadow
On ViewLuis De Jesus
April 16 – May 28, 2022
The phenomenal supermoons of the past six years deeply impressed Nancy Evans, and in Moonshadow, Evans’s first show with Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, they serve as a powerful motif to consider our precarious, transient place in the universe. Of her seven large, radiant paintings, five are dated from 2016, the year that the largest supermoon since 1948 rose in the politically unforgettable month of November 2016. The other two were also completed during years of significant supermoons—the Blood Moon of 2018, and the rare Blue Moon of 2020. The title, Moonshadow, refers to the song by Cat Stevens, which whimsically imagines overcoming loss and embracing the here and now. Similarly, Evans constructs her avidly symbolic landscapes with simple compositions, alluding to American Modernism and evoking transformation and awakening in times of upheaval.
Like Agnes Pelton (1881–1961), whose retrospective title aptly labeled her as a “Desert Transcendentalist,” Evans acknowledges being inspired by the landscape of California: her formative years in the fig orchards of its fertile Central Valley, and recently, the desert of Apple Valley. She describes these experiences as encounters with the metaphysical—even hallucinatory—sublime. Also, like Pelton, Evans has studied Hinduism and Jungian symbolism and depicts lumination as a harbinger for a reality beyond the material world, perhaps a messenger for consciousness. One might refer to Evans as a “Desert Existentialist.” There’s little tranquility in these aqueous, dramatic supermoons. Instead of stasis, there’s action, even hints of foreboding. Lars von Trier's film Melancholia (2011) comes to mind, in which a beautiful bright star is soon identified as a rogue planet whose orbit will inevitably destroy Earth. As natural disasters and climate change increasingly become part of our lives, we live with—and deny—the threat of our self-imposed extinction. The moons in Evans’s paintings hover in a restless gestalt, merging natural wonder with a call to consciousness.
Evans moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s, drawn to the experimental genres of performance and installation. Highly regarded as an original and multifaceted artist, Evans has made notable bodies of work in sculpture and installation, and now, painting, which she describes as “pushing the paint till it falls apart.” The paintings, nocturnal in tone and color, seem as much forged from primal elements as painted. The physicality of their making is palpable; heavy washes of twilight blue-grays, umber forest greens and silvery whites are repeatedly poured onto the canvas, with vaporous highlights sometimes applied with silkscreens or a spray gun. Evans counts on the rivulets formed from the separation and crazing of the diluted pigments to pattern, mark, and weave the surfaces.
In Harvest Moon (2016), molten pools coalesce into a dream-like, Jungian apparition of landscape, a quadrant composition reading as a hot red river flowing from the crevices of an umber-green canyon. Between the canyon cliffs, the moon rises, falls, or is born into a yellow luminescence suspended in watery smoke. The heaviness of Evan’s aqueous surface (she refers to it as a skin) parts like a veil for the emerging moon. Evans has stated that Charles Burchfield is an important influence. The mystic painter’s writhing, spiky branches are referenced in the edges and drips from Evans’s pours and the viewer begins to read the acrylic surface as alive with natural phenomena. Evans’s paintings expand metaphors for terrain by the formations of pigments responding to natural forces, their various weights, granular properties, and drying times creating their own geographic microcosm.
The moon recedes into a four-pointed star in the gorgeous and eerie Fleurs du mal (Evil Flower) (2018). Evans admits that the star is from a Hallmark card, the first hint of the Americana to come. In the moonlight, we see a barren landscape where an immense pink blooming plant erupts, either illuminated or irradiated. An alien species with a human-like, diagonal contortion, it seems to bend despairingly, a posture reminiscent of a crucifixion. The blossom is missing some petals, and the center is ripe with seeds. Evans here uses her full repertoire of complex techniques to magnificent effect. Perhaps we encounter this plant while crawling through the night, the point-of-view level to the ground, like that of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World (1948). We view the flowering plant from both above and below, a labyrinth of brown brushstrokes and stark black shadows. On the horizon is a tiny black barn, or house, emitting gray plumes, sized and placed in the composition much the same as the barn in Christina’s World. In Fleurs du mal, Evans moves from American Modernism to a post-apocalyptic version of American Regionalism, unsettling, ravishing and surreal. Within its potent symbolism, many American myths collide. Evans infuses Fleurs du mal with a poetic sense of ruin and devastation, but also with the possibility of renewal.