New York, Sept. 2009 – Franklin Evans’ first solo show at Sue Scott Gallery in the Lower East Side was developed over a year-long residency at the Marie Walsh Sharpe Space Program in DUMBO. The show is an obsessive articulation of the gallery, as Evans utilizes watercolors and everyday studio materials such as tape, bubble wrap, sheets of canvas, and dozens of gallery press releases to transform the space into a wonderland that narrates partial stories of the New York art world and his own studio process. In October, Evans will collaborate with choreographer Trajal Harrell on the set design for Harrell’s Twenty Looks, or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church(s) at The New Museum.
Franklin Evans, 2008/2009 > 2009/2010, September 9 - October 24, 2009; Courtesy of the artist
Hong-An Truong: So, have you always been a painter?
Franklin Evans: "Growing up in Reno, NV, I was unaware of the possibility of becoming an artist."
I started making art as an undergraduate at Stanford University during my sophomore year. At the time my major was economics, but in my first drawing class I was immediately hooked. I turned my dorm room into a studio. After Stanford I went to University of Iowa for my MFA in painting and then moved to New York to live and work as an artist.
HT: It seems like we’re at a place where there’s a return to the studio, and a return to materiality from the theoretical practice of the last 20-30 years. But the return to the studio is more about the studio as site. How do you feel like your practice fits into this context?
FE: "I think we are at a point of rapid change, multi-positioning, and non-linearity."
Materiality has been present in periods of non-material dominance. What I see as different now is that it is easier to voice a “minority” position, due to many factors including the more democratic nature of media distribution via the internet. My work is not a critique of post-studio practice. My use of the studio tangentially considers a post-studio critique of studio as site rather than just a place for production and the pre-critique position of studio as place for production. In my show, all the site-work was developed over the prior year in the production cell of the studio. Many of the processes are replicated, but parallel to a post-studio practice, the gallery site displaces the studio to some degree in what the site predetermines through architectural limitations.
HT: Can you describe your process of working in the studio?
FE: I work nearly every day in the studio. I try to mix the familiar with the unfamiliar. Two years ago, I felt trapped in the relatively familiar for a series of deadlines. I altered that approach by ordering my days whereby half the days I explored the relatively more familiar and the other half I explored something entirely new to my practice. I am less rigid now, particularly since I started layering painting, thinking, making processes atop one another. This layering leads to confusion and new ways to make work. I return to familiar processes but each time they have been perverted slightly by their adjacent partner processes.
"By layering so many concurrent processes in the studio, I avoid the familiarity trap."
HT: Is research a part of your process at all?
FE: Research is much less a part of how I make work. I read a fair amount, for the past couple years mostly about other art and I see lots of exhibitions. In the show I have the piece “temporarythoughts” which is a painted column supporting my recent reading (Donald Judd, Painting as Model, James Cahill). These books are used less for research with an end product in mind and more as an expansion of my ideas about art and the joy of learning about past art. I also consider my active attendance of exhibitions part of my ongoing education. I am still learning from Urs Fischer’s 2008 “Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?”
HT: From what I can tell, your new show at Sue Scott shows an interesting trajectory of your work. You’re still thinking about abstraction, perspective, and space. But you’re now elaborating more on the site of the studio / gallery as painting. Can you talk about the installation and how it came about?
FE: The work can read as an installation. I think of it in more fluid terms of parts that piece together into larger systems that co-exist, cancel, distort, enhance and constantly shift. It encompasses this wide range between the discrete system (such as watercolor) and the accumulation of the discrete visual systems that may be read as installation. The project came out of my year at The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation Space Program in DUMBO – “Component/System/Sub-System: A Year of Magical Thinking.” There I explored the daily change of the studio as my subject. I was interested both in the arrival at an end and in the allowance for the means to exist as subject. The wide range of processes that I elevate to subject positions include: 1. residual blocking tape forming cluster worlds that become autonomous; 2. wall paint stations for painting the tape that I use in other areas of the studio/gallery that organically morph into positive spatial visual situations; 3. the measurement of last season’s art exhibitions framed through the press releases used cumulatively as a framing of the past for my show (the present).
Sue Scott Gallery, installation views; Courtesy of the Artist and Sue Scott Gallery.
HT: You have referred to the notion that all painting is a portrait of time. It’s interesting to think of that in terms of your installation work and the emphasis on the spatial within the temporal. How do you think about these two elements working together?
FE: "All existence has time as a variable. Space illuminates the role of time."
Painting on a flat surface has the limitation of two dimensions and a near-impossibility of seeing from multiple perspectives. But physical space allows for a reconsideration of space experienced. In particular, I have set up my show so the viewer passes through the front room into the second room and back to the first room, but because of the tape screen he cannot fully enter the room but can only look at this room, which is his recent past (the room that he just passed through). The spatial allowed me to create a situation that forces a consideration of time and when the viewer is faced with the screen he looks back at the wall piece “throughfriedrichsfuture”. This position is the optimal position to view the piece (unobstructed by the central column in the room). This position is “lookbackstage” literally the stage for looking back. The act of looking back parallels my inversion of Friedrich’s “The Wanderer,” an 1818 painting which was interpreted as the present looking at the uncertain future. I present the future looking at the past behind “The Wanderer.” Physical space makes it easier to present a more complex consideration of time in any dimension.
HT: You are making paintings and objects. How do you think about these two modes of working as different or the same?
FE: I am mostly making paintings that can be read as objects or installations. I think almost entirely in terms of painting (Stella’s Black Paintings, Friedrich’s paint application and color discretions, Malevich’s extreme rejection of the pictorial, Matisse’s more blue is more, etc.) I think very little about making objects, but I do think about site-specificity, specifically in terms of the physical limitations of a site in determining painting possibilities. The few objects that are in the show are cast offs that I haven’t been able to throw away. The tape balls clustered on a window sill and resting on the floor are titled “incompletethoughts.” I think of them as potential thoughts or orb/planets that have collapsed or are about to lift off.
HT: Your installation seems to be a kind of formal, material investigation that extends into the space of the studio / gallery, and the space of art history. The self-reflexivity is playful but also serious. Can you talk about this – or how you think about your work or your position as an artist?
FE: It is definitely more playful in investigation (the parallel working processes that playfully cannibalize one another) but I recognize the serious implications of what I present. I am a process-based painter who does not discard the idea of the object while I simultaneously assert and exaggerate the eventual finitude of the idea of the archival. Moreover, I am a painter who presently reads from and positions most, maybe all, of my work (whether it is digital animation or collaborative curatorial performance) in that archival, archaic place of painting.
ArtSlant would like to thank Franklin Evans for his assistance in making this interview possible.