We took a minute to sit down with local artist, John Vehar-Evanoff, to talk about his new body of work, "Submerged Reflection," now on display in the front gallery through July 15, 2017. We are featuring his abstracted series of paintings that foreground texture and weight, making visible Vehar's intricate process of layering and removing paint with varying sizes of squeegees.
Can you explain the impetus behind this shift to a more abstracted, ethereal, and atmospheric body of work?
It's natural, I think, for artists to gravitate toward abstraction as time and career move forward. Early in your career it's all about not making mistakes, and later it's about allowing for the right ones. I'm forty-five, so I'm just now starting down the path of trusting my intuition fully. However, for me, my earlier work is not so disconnected from my current work. In both, I try to balance innovation, skill, and design, allowing for randomness and mistakes without abandoning all foundation. I think the earlier pieces are stepping stones to pure and free expression, free of "objects" and cumbersome ideas. I think that is the goal, and it's why abstract painting will always be, for me, the highest form of expression, much like poetry will always be the purest form of writing. It's a progression I'm getting comfortable and familiar with. I'm not the type of person to repeat the same work over and over again. That being said, I think you can see the "Vehar" in a "Vehar," even if the subjects are different. Only time will tell.
These pieces have a fascinating layering and textured effect in the horizontal bands across the canvas. Can you explain your process of applying and removing the paint?
Very thin paint is applied to a very weak size, maybe only one or two coats, allowing for an absorption of a certain amount of paint into the canvas, and a certain amount on the surface. This creates a very "dry" looking surface, much flatter than it appears. This took years of experimentation to know what paint does in various situations, and on various surfaces.
Squeegees are used to push, rags used to blend, and additional layers are applied as needed until a balance is achieved. Drips are allowed in the composition and not wiped off. The hardest part is knowing when to intuitively stop and let go. Working with a difficult surface forces you to deal with what you have created and make it work.
What was the transition for you in painting your darker pieces, arguably the most abstracted of the works in your show? Light, shadow, and line seem to be the primary compositional elements. Can you also speak to the use of mixed media in these works?
I've been searching for a long time to find a way to incorporate simple line and form into my work. This was the first time I achieved it in a way that was satisfactory to me. Half-way through them I realized that what I really wanted to do here is express rhythm, and I got very excited about that. All these marks and scribbles come down to is the rhythm of my hand across the surface, like light bouncing off moving water. But you've seen a "scribble" many, many times before, and I knew I had to find a way to get the viewer to accept my version of what humans have been doing for centuries. I had to ask the viewer to see an old thing as new again. So, in order to achieve that, I had to reverse an age-old artistic process. Normally we go charcoal, then paint. I simply went paint, then charcoal.
For you, what is it about the landscape of red rock and water that inspires these abstracted vistas?
I spent a lot of time at lakes and reservoirs as a child, and I think those memories just came through my body onto the canvas. For me, it's the soft-hard-soft that make these environments work. The jagged, solid surface of a stone merged with the softness of a cloud is fascinating to me, as is how theses elements interact with or touch each other. Also, the reflection of the stone or solid material in water seems to soften and cool the body.
The show's title sparked a lot of interest at your opening. Can you explain the vocabulary and compositional choices for Submerged Reflection?
Honestly, the title came about near the end of the show, and was a collaborative effort between gallery and artist, but seemed very appropriate and matched the overall goal of the work. The darker abstractions are very purposefully designed to get the viewer to accept the simplest and purest form of self expression; the simple "mark."
Often a complex, well-constructed ground, especially if it contains a sense of mystery, will hold a person’s attention long enough to get them to recognize the true expression, the movement of the primitive hand, so to say, on top of that ground. It's the combination of informed and uninformed that makes these compositions work.
Please stop by the gallery to view "Submerged Reflection," by J. Vehar Evanoff through July 15, 2017.