NOTES ON FIVE RECENT PAINTINGS BY ANGELO EVELYN
Angelo Evelyn’s work has again and again returned to sujets
that are technological or that in some amazing way touched upon questions
of science. It may have to do with his formation as a physicist or with
his keen awareness of ecological problems. It is enough to think of ‘North
Sea Landscape’ and ‘Fischers Fritz’ or, say, the works of the Global Warming
On other occasions, this artist has shown a propensity
to look closely and in fact lovingly at concrete everyday objects. Works
of Jim Dine come to mind who shared the same love of a craftsman for the
beauty of, say, a saw blade, a hammer, a shovel. The isolation of the object,
the careful visual approach to its aesthetic qualities is nothing completely
new in modern art. It is found in a cool, and yet provocative way, in works
by Duchamps, for instance the famous urinal.
This is not the way Angelo Evelyn looks at the world.
The provocation, if it is there, is different, less intellectual, less
The flesh and blood of our way to exist, the ‘guts’ can
be sensed so often quite acutely in the physical act of painting that he
A work like ‘The Miracle of Flight’ (2008) is, to my mind,
in some way situated in the tradition of Dine. And then, again, clearly
transcends it. What reminds me of Dine is the atmosphere evoked by the
colors of this work, an atmosphere that surpasses the sterile visual reality
of a book full of images of airplanes, destined for students of engineering
or aircraft design.
There is something magical to these planes. If childhood
memories gave rise to the theme, an interest in the war planes of the early
1940s or the small planes that make locations in the Canadian wilderness
accessible, the fascination of the child or teenager has been transformed
into memory, and the memory has given rise to, in part, blurred images
and dreamlike colors.
And yet, the montage of these images amounts to a strategy
that was dear already to Constructivists, also to Dadaists, even to Surrealist
artists. The Surrealist heritage here comes closest to what Angelo Evelyn
developed. Montage is no calculated, rational act to him, I surmise, sensing
the production process that underlies what I see. It is spontaneous,
to a large extent: intuition, mixed with knowledge – the knowledge of the
craftsman, the painter, that such an option exists and can be tested concretely.
And that it can undergo a metamorphosis in the act of painting.
The metamorphosis comes about when the lines, the boundaries
of the pieces that make up the montage become blurred, when we see them
painted over, here and there, when the constructeur’s or the engineer’s
cross-section or aerial view of a plane is subjected to overpainting, a
break with a naturalistic application of color. We get several cross-sections
of the entire plane, one frontal view, one from above, one view each of
2 different parts of the plane, both being wings seen in isolation, from
above. Vertebrae are inserted, adding a further layer. This is, perhaps,
a metaphor for control and also something organic, forming a curving line,
like a snake. Then, there is also an elephant, represented by no more than
an outline and splashes of color. It is flying through the blue of the
sky. There are toy-like figures, winged toys with pig-like snouts that
hover in the air. One plane, given by way of its cross-section, has a whirring
propeller indicated by white and pink sketchy elongated vertical splashes
of color. It is enough to evoke motion, the perception of flight: a small
plane steadily on its way. An inserted dark fragment of a square with a
captured frog dancing inside it could be no more than a boulder lying next
to the runway.
The enigmatic, seemingly strong and heavy-looking object
partly covering sight of the large view of the plane’s wings is in fact
a rough or approximative representation of a sculpture done by Henry Moore.
Clearly, in its heaviness it is the opposite, the contradiction of flying
machines. It is also functioning like a connecting and, at the same time,
a separating element, holding apart different visual spaces of the work,
different scales and thus, sizes of planes, different segments of the sky
or the ground. Needless to say, this dream of flying machines can do without
a central perspective. We can screen it with our eyes, getting lost in
the labyrinth of shapes and colors.
In a way, ‘The Miracle of Flight II’ (2008) is a cooler
version dedicated to the same sujet. While echoing the first work, it is
still an entirely different painting. The blue of the sky that the black
outlines of planes are set in, constitutes a unitary, almost illusionist
space. Insofar, any thought of montage is to be excluded. A relatively
abstract or ‘constructive’ quality of the planes that were initially drawn
in the way an engineer would draw them for an encyclopedia article is only
halfway present. It is transcended by variations in the thickness of the
lines, their strength or forcefulness, the changing solidity of black.
And it is at the same time put in question by a repeated and determined
blurring of the plane outlines, in other words, by occasional overpainting
that avoids to cover the lower layer too thoroughly, as the artist rather
prefers to let it shine through, to a greater or lesser extent.
Strange elements are inserted, elements known already
from other works done by this painter. There are all the angels of Giotto,
for instance, depicted in the way a pop artist might do it, which lets
no room for any sweetness while creating an ambivalence that is close to
the tongue-in-cheek though not the ironic. There is a black square with
an inserted animal again, as well as a schematically indicated human brain,
and a large key.
White clouds seem to drift in the blue sky. A propeller
is whirring, as in the other work of the same series that evokes the ‘miracle
of flight.’ I wonder what element, which association, is stronger: the
wonder and threat of flying machines used in peace and war, or the irritation
caused by the hovering angels of early modern art that already visualized
man’s longing to have wings and traverse the air. Just as the toys of kids
traverse it for short moments when they throw them as high as they can
and watch them fall down again. Blue splashes, the serenity of blue, meanwhile,
gets into our eyes like smoke in the famous song, and other colors add
a fairy tale note to it.
Years ago, Angelo Evelyn, to whom we also owe the next
work, named ‘Cetus / The Whale’, was living in Norway, painting landscapes,
seascapes, visions of oil platforms but also large whales. Sometimes memories
of a warship entered his mind, connected with the war he had heard about,
firsthand, as a kid. And thus, there were images of the sea, of destroyers
and submarines. None of them heroic. But grim as the North Atlantic in
late fall or during the winter.
‘Cetus / The whale’ is a painting that takes up an earlier
painting - a metamorphosis of a painting remembered that in turn remembered
whaling and what is part of it: salt water, factory ships, the process
of dissecting these large lovely mammals.
The colors of this work, like those of some other recent
paintings by Angelo Evelyn (for instance, ‘The Discovery of Frobisher Bay’)
have a distinct Northern quality: the harsh, or should I say, hard, precise,
brisk clarity that colors assume when objects are seen in Northern light,
in places like Norway or Canada, on a cold, very intensely sunny day. And
the light of the sun seems to be more intense at the coast, or when you
are at sea on a calm, windless or at least cloudless day.
The monumental, longish painting has certain traits of
a triptych, with the middle section standing out somewhat higher than the
left and right section. Is the formal choice of a triptych an indication
that a ‘religious’ reading is possible - that the painting can be seen
as a kind of remembrance of (if not homage to) the martyred, crucified
The parts of the whale afloat above sea level are grey
and greenish, really fishy, that is to say, fish/meat/like, and rotting
in the light of day.
The parts that are in the water are much darker.
A thin band of blue color indicating the intruding presence
of water separates the upper and lower segments of the whale cut in parts.
And still, the parts seem to swim as if there remained a virtual life,
a completeness or eternity of existing and swimming on and on that refuses
to die and become portioned and sold to connoisseurs.
Irritating patches of red, like flames, glow in the corpse
of the vast animal.
Lines connect and hold the parts together, like a helpful
net. They are lines that connect the stars of a star constellation. Forming
another layer of the work, they have also sunk into or are mirrored by
All around the animal, we see angels hovering, drifting
in lucid blue air, drifting in the dark waters of an imaginary Atlantic
Ocean. Do they sing a song of mourning? Do they protect what can no longer
be protected when it has been dissected? Do they long to make nature whole
again, healing the wounds, closing the split? How classical Giotto’s angels
have become again, in this painting! Classical, serious, and very modern.
Somewhere a green cod seems to swim and sneak past the
tragedy of slaughter, the slaughter of a beautiful whale. A dotted sky,
the grid of the ocean that is full of endless nets that promise profit
to the whaling industry: they are only one of so many layers of this work,
layers that combine elements we encounter again and again in other works
by this artist. And perhaps therein, in this layering, this combination
done intuitively, perhaps, rests the real mystery of this work.
What is it that strikes me more in Angelo Evelyn’s most
recent work? The freshness and intensity of the colors? Or the almost mythological
quality of the imagery, whether it’s whales (like Moby Dick, in this case
briefly referred to as Cetus), planes (that is to say, flying machines
we could have seen 60 years back from now, in what was almost another age,
technologically speaking – the time when flying was young, a recent experience
and an intrinsically lonely adventure)? Or, as here, in ‘Ikarus falling’,
the evocation of human beings who dream of flying...? Ikarus, falling and
falling, in his dreams! Or man, or woman, in the act of love-making, of
‘flying,’ then, falling rudely or terribly perhaps, into a state of loneliness.
This work is, to me, a revocation of Blake. William Blake,
the poet, spoke of the marriage of heaven and hell, referring by this to
the presence and union of opposites, heavenly and terror-stricken or panicky.
That contradiction, that ambivalence is present in ‘Ikarus falling’, as
well. The upper reaches of the painting are filled with the golden streaming
glow of an invisible sun. The lower ones with the azure blue of a far away,
imaginary sea. Or is it just colors, nothing representational for you,
but simply the tension or correlation of yellows, glowing wonderful yellows
and almost turquoise blues? Set into the middle of the canvas and stepping
between a heavenly sky and an equally paradisical sea is the dark blue
of night, rising above the curved horizon of that imaginary sea like King
Kong was rising among the skyscrapers of New York. The blue of night,
it is; the winged blue of night, raising its frightful head like the mythical
figures of Blake rise in his poetry: the figures that represented doom,
tyranny, repression, counter-revolution when America was shaking off the
shackles of despotic Britain. When the peasants of France threw off the
chains of serfdom. And yet, the danger of tyranny returning was there,
and remained in the air. Until today, when Ikarus is falling. And Ikarus
is modern man, Ikarus is two shapes two outlines, one filled with dark
green, another with a dark brownish red. It’s a despaired figure, despairing
figure - maybe male, maybe female. Falling, head on, in the left part of
the painting. And with its feet first, its legs first, in the right part.
Apparently a stencil was used to produce this shape which
is also serving to hold the upper world and the lower part of the universe
of this painting together. Ikarus is falling from one of these worlds into
the other, and he’s also the bridge that links them, visually. So much
is clear. But other species seem to fall as well, or hover in mid-air:
Is that the carcass of a pig, next to the ‘green’ Ikarus? Is there the
shape of a dog or a fat rabbit, legs up in the air, ears flapping seawards,
downwards, while it’s accompanying the slow descent of Ikarus?
A blueish, smaller Ikarus seems to sail seawards, as well.
Almost unnoticed by most, perhaps, in its position close to the right edge
of the canvas. Even more unnoticed still, a companion piece, a counterpart
of this, on the left. And blue, too, there is that winged Dracula with
the head that is half-human and halfway, a bird head, with big beak and
the sharp eyes of a bird of prey. Strange mythical birds fly in the
sky. Angels drift and fly and accompany the fall of Ikarus. On one of these
angels, a small horny devil seems to ride. The imagery thus is not free
of sexual allusions. But it also incorporates hopes. Hopes focused on human
creativity, human productivity - and perhaps the fears that are attached
to it, given our most recent historic experience.
Looking at ‘Circus Acrobats’, I see a visual space filled
by flaming, glowing, sometimes almost golden light – a bit reminiscent
of the color of sunrises painted by Turner. But this is not Turner. Is
it closer to Pop Art or to Surrealist works, a magical realism perhaps?
Though certainly not as starkly bright as such magical realism appears
to be these days, in South America or the Philippines. In the midst of
this work, enclosed by the blossoming areas of warm, yellow sunlight, there
is the emptiness of blue: the blue air, the light blue sky, outside a circus
tent. I see, in this sky, a magical firework.
Then, I notice the chair. I see: a table. Or is it bar
stool? And a clownesque green animal, of uncertain identity, jumping amidst
the lines of a star constellation.
Slaughtered pigs or cows seem to swing in the air like
trapeze artists. One of them is balancing a tray with what maybe apples
or bombs with their fuses burning.
The face of the slaughtered animal to the left wears
an astonished expression. Its eyes: blue and shiny. Red lobsters seem to
hover in mid-air. And all of this is surrounded by angels, angels with
halos that are golden. A color that makes them starkly present.
The work, as most or all of the works here discussed,
is part of a series entitled ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’. And this is
an apt indication of a shared topic indeed. Faced with the uncertainties,
the horrors of a world, a humanity that is like a car going down a dead-end
street full-speed, perhaps we needs guardian angels, angels like those
young angelic kids that took to the streets in Seattle Stockholm and Genoa;
angels that warn us like Arundhati Roy and Noam Chomsky and Angelo Evelyn.
Angels that invoke our self-protective, humane energies, our capacity to
love rather than destroy or chase or aim at vast profits. Angels that make
us protectors of our world’s beauty, of its diversity, its human presence,
the presence of its animals plants mountains rivers and vast blue seas.
Rotterdam, January 24, 2009