The Language of Flowers, Nick Evans in Conversation with Kitty Anderson

Glasgow Project Room 2 – 9 June 2018

Some parts of a conversation held in public between Nick Evans and Kitty Anderson in Glasgow Project Room on 2nd June 2018

KA: The first area where our interests converge is around materials, so I firstly wanted to ask if you could say something about how you came to them and how you use them?

NE: It goes back to the formative years of my practice… it was after graduating (in 2000) and looking to many sculptural practices, particularly those using assemblage at the time that I decided I didn’t really want to use many found objects in my work. I wanted to use materials which enabled me to generate original identities; rather than using ‘ready-mades’ I would use ‘made-readies’.

So that led me at that stage to use materials that I felt had no intrinsic symbolic identities beyond the nature of the materials themselves, so things like clay, and ceramics, and resins.

It was only later that I came to plaster really, It had never really occurred to me that plaster might be a more kind of appropriate material at first.

And plaster is a very humble material, its very cheap, which is extremely important as my interest in materials is also an interest in maintaining a daily practice around material, so I don’t really want a ‘project material’ that is a one off, or requires a lot of resources.

KA: Are you using materials in order to utilise the material’s inherent properties or to go against them? Or is it possibly both?

NE: Well, I’m interested in plasticity…
I don’t usually have that much interest in exploiting different forms of textualities, or image qualities, or materials that are being asked to function as images, or literally are images, such as photographs. I just want to try to think about plasticity more, and so the primary quality of a material like plaster, and the materials that I use is their plasticity…

KA: I came across a nice quote from civil engineer Pierre Luigi Nervi. He referred to concrete as “a living creature that can adapt itself to any form, need, any stress”… and I was wondering whether there was a sort of similarity there, this thing of letting a material do its thing, but also to push it to do something, anything you can imagine as well…

NE: Yeah, it perhaps relates to the idea of craft as well, I mean working with a material, you obviously become quite familiar with the language of a material. Part of your remit, if you like, is to allow the living qualities of a material to emerge, and to really step back slightly, when you are working with it.

I’m sure it is something that probably goes for most materials that are more or less plastic – but you know I quite like the way a material like plaster is almost over plastic, you know you can really… it is really plastic, at certain points, it takes everything you do to it, it just kind of like wants it… it’s a wanton material (laughs) and I kind of like that.

KA: There is this nice quote from Fiona Jardine where she talks about plaster within your work as, “an auxiliary material, propositional and prosthetic”, and, because of course this quote comes from her talking about it in relation to orthopaedics, there is something about these sort of medical associations, or even the remedial, and then of course when we add the figure back in it sort of…

NE: (points to sculpture of leg) – its a cast, erm… a stookie…

KA: And whether that association, moving from the previous work, the Tramway show where you were using the body in a perhaps more monumentalised form… Is there a shift in terms of moving into a human fragility, is there a different bodily relationship?

NE: I think that with the older works, like the Tramway works, I was probably looking for an end point with each work, for each sculpture I was looking for it to become definite, whereas I think that would maybe be less so the case now…

I’ve always seen the work as figurative, and I’ve always tended to work quite alot with the display, and I’ve tended to develop ideas of situations, or ideas of scenarios, or there is an element of world building, so once the sculptures are kind of ‘done’, as in I’ve worked with a form in my studio as much as I feel able or willing to do so, then there is the other bit, which is making the show, which is less to do with material, and is more to do with situations, both physical and imaginary, so I think there are different things going on there really…


KA: Then the other thing we spoke about previously, is your process of actually making the work, and we see it here with these repetitive structures of different kinds, whether it is these small pieces of timber joined together, or pieces of metal, you can start to imagine how they came about, likewise with the building blocks on the various plinths. Do you maybe want to say something about how you work?, You had that very nice term…

NE: The generative…?

KA: The generative working process, yeah

NE: Yeah, so I try to maintain a generative working process, throughout the passage of a sculpture, and what that means, for me, is actually quite literal.

It means that I try to have processes in which I don’t have to know what the end point of that process is, and that the process can allow for multiple changes and iterations of the form all the way through.

And in the past I have tended to make small cast elements which I have joined together and plastered together. Usually the first iteration is not right, or not usually as good as it could be, so usually it gets cut, turned, changed. Often that can go through multiple iterations, and each iteration builds upon the previous iteration, or develops or changes somehow the previous iteration.

Its quite operational, and it is a little bit like speech in a way, or language, in the way that you start with a limited range of letters, words, signs or symbols and then they can be joined in order to create phrases.

I’m also interested in the way they appear at the end as if they haven’t actually gone through that process, and I’m quite fine with that, I’m not trying to reveal the process. The process is very important I feel, but it is not something that is necessarily important to communicate to the viewer.


KA: The next topic I wanted to discuss with you was about form, and contradiction, formally what are we looking at and how do the forms decide themselves or what they become, their duality and contradiction?

There is another nice quote that I found… you’ve spoken about your work as “trying to hold together terms that are in opposition to one another”.

I had first read that and understood that as a thing about human and non-human, the organic and mechanical, the natural and the man-made, and then here I started to see it as the figurative and the abstract, and then more generally in your practice perhaps it’s about modernism as against post-modernism, and affinities with certain periods of time, and being able to reflect upon that…

NE: All of those things are very much the case, I think all those examples you cited are very much the case.

So if a work looks like a figure and it looks like a machine it is going in the right direction. If it looks like a machine without being a figure it is not going in the right direction…it goes back a little bit to the generative process, like, ok, you have generative process, but generative to what end?

I’m not like John Cage or something. I’m not like setting up some algorithm which determines its own outcome. I’m authorial, I am determining the outcome, so you do bring criteria when you are sitting in the studio looking at something. And increasingly perhaps some of the primary criteria are around whether it is doing at least two things, and ideally is it doing at least two things in a slightly ‘ontologically problematic’ way.

So it is finding that very delicate sometimes… sometimes it actually happens really easily… but sometimes it’s a very delicate line you are treading between it falling into the over familiar or it falling into the overly abstract.

KA: We had spoken about the uncanny valley…There are these nice charts, I don’t know if you know them, which chart human empathy and human likeness; the more like a human it is, the more empathy you have for an object, until suddenly it is so like the human that your empathy drops off and you are suddenly disgusted or terrified by it.

NE: Yeah, yeah the closest work to it here is probably the leg, the leg has a definite reference to something that is definitely human, but I guess the fact that it is a dismembered part of a body…

KA: A child’s body!

NE: It has, it carries, quite a high degree of discomfort with it anyway…


KA: Maybe this is the moment to start talking about plinths! Because all of these works have plinths or are plinths, or incorporate plinths in some way, but they are also situated on this other plinth, this platform, the ‘carpet’.

And I guess this is something that is connected back to the sculpture studios presentation (Sculpture Showroom/GI 2018), where the whole room became the plinth, in a way, because every surface was covered with plaster. So, the object, the artwork, and the supporting structure, become one… is there a performative element here…?

NE: There is a staging, yeah…

I guess I am quite interested in the anthropomorphic qualities of objects, and I think a lot of objects have varying degrees of anthropomorphism, regardless of whether they are sculptural objects or not.

I guess that is pretty accessible, right? Everybody sort of understands that in a certain way, so I think that can become a kind of tool, or possibility of working, to allow that familiar process of the relationship of one’s body and another body, an object body and our body to exist.

I like that when I am in the studio. I really like to fill my studio with other bodies, and they become kind of co-habitants of my space with me.

That’s one of the ways in which I understand them as sculptures, as opposed to things that are just annoying, (laughs) and get in the way.

If I begin to relate to them as another body in the space, then they are a thing… If I don’t begin to relate to them as another body in space then they are not really a thing, they are still yet-to-be-a-thing.

And then I don’t think it is fanciful to imagine relationships between them. Like I think they relate to each other in a very strong way, and they are inhabitants of their own world.

So when I leave the studio they continue to inhabit the studio and when I come back to the studio the next day it is like, “good morning sculptures, what are we going to do today?”. And I don’t think that is fanciful, I think that is real.

I literally think that is a relationship with the world that everybody has in fact. I think to a greater or lesser degree. I think obviously when you’re an artist and you are with your objects, and your objects are of you and of your space, that is amplified, right, and I am sure that most artists have that kind of relationship with their work.

It is just I perhaps play it up a bit, through scale, and through certain attributes of being ‘a bit like a torso’ or ‘a bit like a head’. And then with some of the more recent work, I then allowed some of the furniture and other things that you have those relationships with anyway in everyday life, to become ‘sculptural’.

KA: I had a question about the furniture-like objects or elements…Would you say that the more functional they become, the less like friends and more like objects they are?

NE: Well no, because I think it depends perhaps upon the grouping, when I was working on this grouping, the pot plant on a table belonged to the sculptures, so it’s the sculpture’s plant.

I guess these are figures and that (pot plant sculpture) is not really a figure, and the flowers are not really a figure… But then again, perhaps the flowers are a figure and perhaps the pot plant on a table is a figure, like I’m not really sure. And I think those kinds of ambiguities are what I was talking about, when I was asking about the work, is it doing more than one thing?

‘Ur Phenomenon’ Lorna Macintyre and Nick Evans Interview

Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art

George Vasey: Could you talk about how you approached working together for this exhibition?

Lorna Macintyre: I think we’ve approached the show so that our works are autonomous yet are in conversation. We’ve been swapping reading material and visiting each others studios which has been useful to get under the skin of each others practices and to allow the show to grow from these conversations.

GV: Nick, I know that you were keen to work with Lorna very early on after our initial studio visit. The starting point for our conversation was a project that I was working on with Nicholas Pope, a commission that is currently on display in the other gallery at NGCA.

Nick Evans: I invited Lorna because I thought her approach would deal well with a sense that I had about Pope’s work; that seeing his work for the first time set out subliminal co-ordinates that helped to mark out an area that I was also trying to explore.

GV: What has been really great about the season of exhibitions at the NGCA is that the conversations with a group of artists engaged in similar ideas over the space of 40 years have culminated in these quite distinct overlapping exhibitions.

NE: Yes, I was interested in this idea that Pope and I might have affinities across time and space, leading us towards some similar forms. What really appealed to me was that Lorna would perhaps be able to map these spheres of influence.

GV: So you and Lorna have been meeting up regularly?

NE: Yes, regularly and fruitfully although not in an intensely collaborative way. Each of our contributions to the exhibition is quite separate. I roped Lorna in with the intention that she would develop her own, unique response to Pope’s house and studio. I hope (and believe) that the way the individual responses come together might be a sufficient synthesis of these ideas to make a coherent exhibition.

GV: The title of the show is ’Ur Phenomenon’. I was wondering if you could reflect on this — why did you choose it for the title?

LM: I came across the phrase reading Hannah Arendt’s introduction to Walter Benjamin’s ‘Illuminations.’ It was as much Arendt’s description of the phrase that struck me as a beautiful sentence; ‘a concrete thing to be discovered in the world of appearances, in which ‘significance’ and appearance, word and thing, idea and experience would co-incide’…

NE: I like the description of the word as “an archetypal phenomenon, a concrete thing to be discovered in the world of appearances” — this relationship between the real thing and the symbol, the phenomenology of materials, how one’s experience of matter might correspond with one’s idea of it, appealed to me as something that I often deal with concretely in the studio.

GV: It’s originally a phrase taken from Goethe isn’t it?

LM: Yes it is. The description I came across and Arendt’s text, and the direct translation as ‘archetypal phenomenon’ reminded me of Nick’s original invitation, describing a previous body of work of mine as ‘memory archetypes.’ The prefix ‘Ur’ suggests a primordial, elemental quality, which I think is very present in Nick’s work. The idea of an essential core of a thing feels relevant to some of my own preoccupations at the moment. I want the photographs I’m working on to function in several ways simultaneously – to suggest the physicality and presence of Nicholas Pope, to articulate a relationship to sculpture and materiality despite their two dimensionality, to essentially be significant as well as to be exactly what they are.

NE: This has correspondence with the importance that Goethe placed upon seeing the underlying principle of the whole organism, for example the vital tension between horizontality and verticality that is the Ur Phenomenon of a growing plant. It is about learning to see the phenomena in question, not settling for the obvious explanation but seeking out the underlying principle. There is a subtle ethic to this I think when applied to an art object, to do with an object’s qualities: Understanding, revealing and bringing forward an object’s qualities, communicatively, which entails quite a dedication to the complexity and mysterious unknown-ness of an object or person. This is something that I think Lorna achieves very beautifully in her photographs.

GV: How do you see Pope’s work operating in the context of your installation?

NE: I see it as the absent presence, one might even say the Ur-Phenomenon! The reason I was interested in an association with Pope is that his work has impressed itself on me over the years as a memory from before art school. Because of this I felt that the idea of the physical absence of his work could suggest a number of interesting things. We’ve been thinking about the nature of an object’s passage or influence across space and time, the power of memory and images created out of memory, the influence of a place or site, form or material on the generation of image, and vice-versa. These ideas relate to the idea of the psyche as a place, and so could perhaps by extension be explored through the notion of the archaeo-psyche, or an interest in the archaeology of memory and form as both psychic and material matter.

LM: I see Pope as being present in my approach to the installation just as much as his work. In deciding which negatives to work with I was asking myself the question – ‘does it look like Nicholas Pope?’ Which sounds incredibly silly and probably is, but was actually a really helpful question to apply to several rolls of film as a way to find a way through them. In the broadest sense I was seeking out images of the objects which I felt bore a resemblance to the artist – seeking a kind of abstract portraiture within things. In the sense that Nicholas Pope in some way overlaps with the objects that surround him, be they yew trees, sculptures or gloves.

GV: The exhibition and interest in the studio could be seen as quite a romantic gesture in an era or relational and ‘post-studio’ practice. What does the studio mean to you?

LM: I guess I see the studio as a space for transformation – where things become more than the sum of their parts. Also as a space that has a different set of rules to the other spaces I inhabit – where I actively encourage myself to be messy and completely free from constraints. So far in making the work for this show I’ve been working in the darkroom more than the studio – another space that is arguably anachronistic in terms of contemporary practice. I find it a totally compelling way of making work, it feels very separate from the ‘real world’ and that really works for me – a space where there’s a sense of absolute calm and concentration. Then there’s the magic of the process – watching an image appear on a white piece of photo paper. I often feel a little stunned to go outside at the end of the day and have a momentary sensation that the world is very sharply in focus – I mean literally rather than metaphorically…. (!)

NE: I think that in general studio practice is the very opposite of a romantic gesture, being as it is a sustained engagement with materials and the ‘real’ world… However a certain bohemian romantic attitude (which is to say the attitude of the modern consumer) is more or less ubiquitous throughout the visual arts anyway, and culture in general. Seeing as this attitude has become so reflexive, I think that the studio and its aesthetic strategies now actually assume a perverse new urgency. In particular I’m interested in the return of a certain forms of the aesthetic, which dive into, work through and ultimately emerge somewhere quite far beyond the romantic subject. This aesthetic extends to include many other types of objects and beings, including the monstrously Other in their radical non-identity, or their Frankenstein-ism. This entails encounters through studio practice with the unknown, quite literally, albeit in the form of the model or the form-experiment. Even if only as model, perhaps the studio is as good a place as any to rehearse and learn a vital appreciation of these unknown Others.

GV: Lorna, your photographs translate the multi-dimensionality of sculpture into the flat photographic image. How do you see the photographs in relation to the sculptural elements in the show?

LM: I’m interested in the indexical relationship inherent to the silver gelatin process. Light reflected from an object trapped on film then printed with light in the darkroom – there’s so much more physicality involved in the process than with pixels and digital printers and it is the physicality that interests me. In toning the photographs with perry and cider made by the Popes, I’m trying to play with the material nature of the prints, to try to pierce their inherent two dimensionality and to foreground the materiality of the photographic paper itself. I also like that it pokes fun in the seriousness of the medium and to introduce another material like I would in a sculpture. As such I see the photographs as having a direct relationship with the material and physical forms of Nick’s sculpture – I see them as taking another form rather than as being in any way separate or inherently different.

GV: If we think about the famous images by Brassai of Giacometti and Brancusi’s studio in Paris in the Thirties, the artist is often absent – the objects become the subject in a sense. I’ve got two questions; Lorna do you see the photographs as a type of portraiture? & Nick do you see the show as the presentation of process? Ie, things left unfinished and perhaps more provisional as a gesture towards transparency…

LM: Interesting you mention Brancusi as he is a figure that I think connects Nicholas Pope, Nick Evans and I – I think we all might be a little obsessed with him in different ways. His own photographs of his studio have been influential to me. The prints aren’t perfect, they’re quite amateurish but they capture the essence of the work. For Brancusi, the studio was an evolving installation and the camera performed an essential role for him in capturing his work the way he saw it and wanted it to be seen. I do see the photographs as a type of portraiture. I’ve always been really interested in the ‘life’ of objects and materials or their capabilities to suggest and symbolize. I’m fascinated by the role of objects in Ancient greek art — in the power of a lyre to symbolise Apollo or a torch Hekate and that’s something I’ve worked with in my practice in the past. Coming from a completely different angle, Jane Bennet’s theories of ‘thing-power’ have been really influential to me recently. While I’m not directly citing any of these influences in my work for the show I think they are all the same very present.

NE: I think that the gesture towards the studio in terms of actual objects might in fact be quite subtle. We might just end up with some furniture elements from my studio. So for my part no, it is not really going to be a presentation of process, at least not as much as I might have thought previously. The idea of the object being the subject is, as Lorna says, very important to us both, in relation not only to a modernist values around directing expression, but also in relation to 21st century materialisms. Perhaps we are both somehow dreaming of returning to a neo-paleolithic state, where the significance of things is not so disconnected from the physicality of their apprehension. The body, or the embodied gaze, or conversely, the disembodied hand (the ‘hand’ of the tool or machine) are central to both of our understandings of the aesthetics of ‘things’. ‘Things’ – objects real or represented are, as you say portraits, because they imagine material as both sensate – responding to us, and operate reciprocally on our senses.

Ur Phenomenon

Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art
Exhibition Text
16 April – 25 June 2016

Nick Evans and Lorna Macintyre present a joint exhibition of new photographs and sculptures. The project has been initiated in response to the work of Nicholas Pope whose work can be seen currently in the NGCA’s other gallery and Sunderland Minster. The starting point for the exhibition was Nick Evans’ formative experience of seeing Pope’s sculpture ‘The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit by Their Own Lamps’ (1993-96) at Tate gallery in the late Nineties as a student. Recalling the encounter recently, Evans invited Macintyre, in conversation with Pope, to take a series of photographs of the sculptor’s house and studio in Herefordshire.

With Evans’ sculptures and Macintyre’s photographs the artists have created an environment that amplifies certain affinities through the implied, yet absent, work of Pope. By invoking the studio and home, the installation blurs the distinction between the privacy of production and the public nature of display. While Pope’s work inspired a conversation between Macintyre and Evans, her documentation of his working space and home is oblique. She presents a portrait of an artist through an idiosyncratic landscape of objects as much as through their work. The lyrical photographs gesture towards his influence, forming a type of formal and conceptual reverberation across generations.

The exhibition is accompanied by an interview between the artists and the NGCA curator George Vasey expanding on some of the themes. ‘Ur Phenomenon’ is the culmination in a series of exhibition exploring current sculpture with presentations of work by Eric Bainbridge, Maria Zahle, Jonathan Baldock and Pope.

The White Whale

Notes on the exhibition McManus Art Gallery & Museum, Dundee
Nick Evans

In Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick Captain Ahab unsuccessfully pursues the white whale, resulting in the destruction of himself, his ship and his crew.

Ahab’s undoing lies in his inability to discover the whale as an object, instead through his obsession with vengeance he “(shapes) what exists by the way in which he sees it”. Likewise each crewmember’s version of events is determined by their own perceptions of them.

Moby Dick represents a universe whose protagonists are trapped by their subjectivities.
By contrast the exhibition The White Whale is a refusal of the subjective. Escaping from a world saturated with meaning it seeks refuge in objects.

It is an installation of sculptures whose materiality refuses to think in terms of material finiteness. Instead it offers a virtual seduction; an other-world simulacrum.

The sculptures appear as beings from another time or place, consistent with ideas of primitivism from the 20th century canon but divorced from any symbolic or ideological intentions associated with it.

As in the 20th century canon the sculptures’ meaning is internal to the logic of the work. Each work determines the course of its own making. The development of the work is a gradual stripping back of subjective content in favour of increasing formalism.
Arrangement and re-arrangement of form is given priority over interpretative or symbolic value.

The objects speak on my behalf. They are no longer subject to the rules of my desire, but to the artifice of their own rules.
They are no longer a reflection, holding a mirror up to society or self. Here, where the real and the virtual collide, the objects are no longer even mine, being indifferent to me.

The objects are my Other.

Disorderly Orderly

Jardine, Fiona
August 2013

Today, medicine takes the cellular and the genetic as its horizon. Its big mechanics – the orthopaedics – are a Victorian epistemology. Even in this context, I can no longer say ‘at the turn of the century’ and expect you to understand that I mean the19th to 20th, but I do. I mean to direct you to engineering and ceramics, which collide in the practice of setting broken limbs in plaster, a tactic that developed in proximity to the huge Eurasian land wars we see depicted in paintings by Elizabeth, Lady Butler.

In their conception, the modular forms Nick produces in his studio from the materials of ambulatory immobilisation involve buckets of water and sacks of hydroscopic dust. Lumps of claggy earth, paddled into shape, are repeatedly set in bandages, the resulting casts prised off and reassembled along limber lines. Oblong characteristics, acquired from Hepworth and Moore, Nicholson and Nash, are suggestively familiar of that period – InterWar – when the exploded human form consolidated archaically, neolithically, seeking solace in ideas of genial agriculture, childhood and pure colour. Disappearance and permanence (the clay has slipped away) affect consciousness in the same way, shadowing each other. When history exhausts the archive, what’s left? Riddles, recombitants and that vast ludic space between your ears.

Nick spent time on residency at the Tate St Ives in 2006 and marks the experience of encountering Hepworth’s work stored in the converted dance hall cinema that was her studio as especially significant. Stored, the work is in limbo, and it is limbo – a dance and a suspension, bending and binding – that informs him. His own sculptures are siblings in the studio, as much a room for rehearsal as for making. Beckettesque, they sit surrounded by the rudimentary implements that brought them into being, jesting with props that properly belong in a cleaning cupboard – broom handles, mop-heads and sorts. Gradually, tottering towards independence if not autonomy, they force their maker to reside on the periphery, responding to the demands that issue forth now and then from their private huddle. He implements tools and offers them geegaws. They dress-up. Even in plaster, the polished, deliberate surfaces of Hepworth aspire to stone and bronze, graceful and pedantic, materials that Nick’s sculptures don’t have time for, (of course ‘even’ qualifies plaster as an auxiliary material – propositional and prosthetic).

Herbert Read, the Yorkshire-born artist, curator and writer who gave so much body to British Modernism, once wrote an article entitled ‘Distortion’ for a BBC magazine called ‘The Listener’. It is important to frame him as ‘Yorkshire-born’. It is something immutable – a meaningless absolute – that he shared and appreciated with Hepworth and Moore in their ‘gentle nest’. ‘Distortion’, wrote Read in ‘The Listener’ (and the circuit described by these words – Wrote, Read, Listener – is a circuit that describes the Speaker as silent); ‘Distortion’, wrote Read, ‘is a word with unpleasant associations for listeners, but as some of the letters evoked by these weekly notes bear witness, it indicates one of the real difficulties in appreciation of the visual arts. I should be prepared to say, in a very general and perhaps paradoxical way, that all art is distorted. Even classical Greek sculpture, which I dealt with last week, was distorted in the interests of the ideal. Was the line of the brow ever in reality so straight, the face so oval, the breasts so round…?’ Distortion is a process of appropriation and reproduction – there is no appropriation or re-presentation without distortion and re-orientation. With the action of a vortex, Nick’s post-colonial process spins Hepworth and Moore together with the tribal artefacts that came to them as raw ideals; the splinters and weird bodies evident in Nash spin with the baby-boom psychedelics of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Where Hepworth and Moore pegged their notions of home to the immemorial as represented by the English landscape and the spiritual integrity of colonially sourced figures, masks and relics, Nick’s work deal with domesticity as a consequence of life spent indoors, massively informed yet disconnected in a time when staggering equivalences are the bedrock of a new grotesque. On show in gallery and exhibition spaces, his sculptures adopt pedestals that relate Brancusi’s columns as the legs of occasional tables and desire eclectic, patterned backgrounds, the better to emphasize their bone structure. In limbo, they can present a version of what psychedelia took from Victorian ornament, what – sliding the frame along – the Memphis Group took from Kente cloth, (and, by way of Elvis in Tennessee, from Ancient Egypt).

I started this piece making reference to a Victorian epistemology represented by orthopaedics. Involving human bodies and hard materials, it had a critical mass that produced melancholic physicians who took anatomy seriously but also, if we want to extend the metaphor, drôle hospital porters to wheel patients to radiology, (I have in mind Marcel Duchamp). The limits imposed on movement by traction and plaster-casting quickly became comedy staples and plot devices. I would suggest that, like L B Jefferies’ full leg cast in ‘Rear Window’ – hidden in plain sight – Nick’s ‘calcified ghosts’ of Modernist tropes are just such MacGuffins, giving him the excuse to scope across temporalities and speculate about what his erstwhile neighbours have been up to.

(Levels of familiarity and proximity – given names, surnames, brand names/given forms, sur-forms, brand forms – which is closest to you? Here in the catalogue, there in the exhibition? With whom are you most intimate?)

Solar Eyes

Jackson, Claire
Exhibition Text, Tramway, Glasgow

At Tramway, his most ambitious exhibition to date, Glasgow based sculptor Nick Evans (born Zambia 1976) presents a newly commissioned body of works within an environment which is part theme park and part lost civilisation. ‘Solar Eyes’ features a new body of plaster sculptures orchestrated in such a way that they each respond to their own environment, the most ambitious of which is a large architectural complex which mimics the geometry of a Mayan temple. Ancient symbolism is also evoked through an ambitious wall drawing running the length of the gallery and a number of colourful printed backdrops, plinths and floor panels.

Evans makes solid organic forms from white plaster which combine abstract and figurative elements, and convey a visceral energy – often works have a functional or performative aspect or appear to be interacting with their surroundings. The plinths and dioramas for the works are highly decorative, becoming elaborate stages in which the sculptures act as performers. Some appear elevated like classical sculptures, others hold banners with crude representations of themselves, revolve on podiums or have absurd inflatable appendages, whilst many appear partly destroyed or in various stages of completion. In the corner of a room a sculpture has a picnic table inserted into its side, complete with the remains of a feast rendered naively in ceramics. Each sculpture is actively engaging in the language of its own representation, and each implies a different context; commercial, political, historical, social or spiritual.

The eclecticism of materials in Evans practice explores the historical relationship between sculpture and the applied arts, incorporating a diverse range of processes. Whilst exploring the physical parameters of sculpture and the tensions between from and material, sculpture and plinth, mass and gravity, Evans also points to more complex cultural and ideological relationships. In particular the Western fascination with notions of the exotic and ‘other’, conjured up through his humorous and disorienting juxtaposition of forms and styles.

Hieroglyphs and motifs from ancient and lost civilisations are recurrent within the artists vocabulary – many of the plinths and printed backdrops for his sculptures incorporate aspects of Mayan, egyptian and prehistoric symbolism, reworked as bold, graphic representations.Often Evans incorporates a number of motifs, choreographing them into a hybrid visual language which appears in different configurations, repeats and varying scales throughout the exhibition. This language often manifests solely for one body of work and is then discarded, setting up each space as a hermetic universe in which signs and symbols appear in different contexts, ranging from decorative repeats on wallpaper to large scale imposing motifs on banners.

The title of the exhibition references the ‘solar eye’ of Egyptian mythology, a dangerous and autonomous entity whose power was celebrated in temple rituals, and many of the sculptures share in the symbolism of the prehistoric earth goddesses,a constant motif in the work of the renowned British sculptor Henry Moore. The works indeed knowingly borrow much from the classic sculpted forms of mid 20th century sculptors such as Hepworth and Moore, embodying a critical awareness of the language of sculpture. However these references are lampooned and undermined by the absurd and often humorous modes of display. In this context, the sculptures become quizzical, critical and self-reflexive.

Jeffrey, Moira

Scotland on Sunday
February 2013

I’m not sure whether Nick Evans had the so-called Mayan Apocalypse in mind when creating his sprawling but rather wonderful new show at Glasgow’s Tramway.

Nevertheless the elaborate temple-like structure he has built to house his sculpture, with its cheeky references to both Mayan and Egyptian pyramids, can’t help but bring to mind that – despite what everyone on Twitter predicted – the world didn’t end recently.

Of course, experts told us the whole scare was nonsense all along. Why do we wilfully misread the history of ancient cultures? Sometimes, perhaps, because we are burdened with the blinkers of racism, stupidity or colonialism. Sometimes because history is truly lost to us. But often, as I suspect in the case of the Mayans, just because it’s fun.

For artists, the near electric charge of the encounter with other civilisations – people whose art seems quicker and fiercer, more succinct or much more subtle than the dusty old museums of Europe – has driven hundreds of years of art-making and thinking.

There’s been honest study and wilful misappropriation. Nick Evans, a Glasgow sculptor, sits somewhere knowingly in this mix. His kitsch but compelling conceit for Solar Eyes, the biggest show of his work to date, is a series of encounters with artworks set in a thick-walled chamber and displayed in increasingly extravagant manners. It’s like entering an ancient tomb and encountering mysterious artefacts from a lost civilisation.

The sculptures themselves will be familiar to anyone who has seen Evans’ recent work. They are dumpy plaster forms, like Henry Moores that have only half-hatched from their shells, or half-baked Barbara Hepworths. They are semi-human, with their drooping pendulous bits or pert appendages. And often they are cut off at the limbs, like the dusty classical statuary they affectionately mock.

At Tramway, these basic forms are dressed in funny new references. The first figure that greets you has huge eyes made from concentric black and white circles. There seem to be obvious links to Niki de Saint Phalle’s “nana” figures, rotund little female goddesses currently on show at Glasgow’s GoMA.

And there are multiple references to Neolithic goddess worship, including that of Avebury, the English site that has been the centre of centuries-long speculation about ancient rites.

The suggestion seems to be that the struggle to make sense or meaning out of exotic cultures, whether that is daftness about the Mayans, or our own distance from the civilisations that built ancient sites in Britain, is not shameful but a genuine encounter.

It’s a quandary that Evans extends to his own art; all this goddess worship is like a secret vice of sculptors, it ensnared Henry Moore and now it’s got Evans by the short and curlies.

Along the way there are many comic encounters. Working with artist Charlie Hammond, Evans has created a dining table complete with half-eaten ceramic food. It puts one in mind of an abandoned meal table at Pompeii. But examining the contents is a little gruesome. The pottery peas are cute, but is that spaghetti or human entrails? I’m sure I spotted an eyeball.

These suggestions of human sacrifice are also, surely, a little essay on Claude Lévi-Strauss’s famous work The Raw And The Cooked, which suggested that certain mythologies are consistent across widely divergent cultures. Lévi-Strauss’s writings changed the way we think about anthropology and language forever, but it was based on historical accident and on only a few weeks of fieldwork.

The question of sculptural display is similarly lampooned. One work sits on a spinning plinth, like a potter’s wheel, another bears a giant eye that inflates and deflates with phallic pathos.


Kelly, Julia
Exhibition text, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
December 2011

‘Oceania’ immediately conjures up the mysterious and longed-for places of the surrealist imagination. An idea as much as an actual geographical region, it was a place of fantasy, glimpsed through extraordinary carved and decorated objects of the region, all of which reconfigured the human body in strange and unexpected ways. For the leader of the surrealists André Breton, ‘Oceania’ was ‘one of the great lock-keepers of our hearts’. In his foreword to Oceania (1948), an exhibition of its artefacts, he wrote of the ‘stupefying illassortedness’ of its sculpture, adding that these objects are the ‘most exuberant’ products of the imagination, which, like ‘sumptuous flowers’, ‘eclipse…the real world’.

Nick Evans’ choice of this word for this new work is a knowing one, adding an extra-art historical layer to a sculpture-ensemble that is clearly all about the imaginative restaging and reconfiguration of the body. The composition here is decisively horizontal, evoking at once an imaginary place, a family group and a state of mind. The sculpture-protagonists of this set piece are both dispersed and united, as Evans brings together forms and images redolent of both modernist and non-western artworks in a deliberately awkward and uneasy mix. In doing so, he takes on and explores one of the key tropes of modern art critical, anthropological interpretation: namely the comparison between western artistic figuration and its non-western ‘other’. This is characterised as a distinction between the twisting contrapposto of the European tradition and the symmetrical bodies and frontal viewpoints regularly found in non-western, tribal carvings.

The instabilities of such approaches and distinctions become evident as we take a closer look at ‘Oceania’. We might recall the works of Constantin Brancusi, Jean Arp, Alberto Giacometti and Pablo Picasso, at the same time as we might read references to the geometric-figurative designs of Eastern European image-making traditions, non-western patterns, as well as repeated motifs of biological subjects such as tadpoles or spermatozoa. The ordered, largely symmetrical nature of this floor design contrasts strongly with the unruly plaster bodies and wooden bases above. The combination of little-legged, caryatid-like wooden bases with elements in another material recalls the work of Brancusi, where the wooden bases are objects in their own right as well as being plinth-like ‘studio furniture’. Unlike Brancusi’s, however, Evans’ plaster bodies slump unpredictably over their bases, creating a kind of sculptural biomorphism that has no real ‘inner life’, no vitality nor growth. These swollen, limb-like forms seem to have no readily discernible bones or musculature beneath their skins. They show the scars of their multipartite configuration at the same time as they terminate in blank, cut-off stumps: growth arrested and denied.

Evans’ ‘Oceania’ thus draws upon the dreams and nightmares of the modern sculptural imagination only to further unsettle its certainties and disturb its presumptions. It is a way of approaching sculpture-making today that turns the spotlight not only on the art of the recent past, but also in turn on the present and, to quote Breton on the ‘stupefying illassortedness’ of our own times.

Flesh and Bones

Griffin, Johnathan
Liste 16, Basel
June 2011

Where, in Nick Evans’ art, does the soul reside? It’s an odd question to ask of sculptures on plinths, but the heart of Evans’ beguiling work is strangely absent – that is to say, it is not where we might ordinarily expect to find it.

The Asante people, like many others in West Africa, believe a stool to be the container of its owner’s soul. They consider it impolite just to sit down on someone else’s stool. The Golden Stool – a richly ornamented version passed from king to king – is believed to embody the collective spirit of the people, and is placed on a chair of its own during ceremonies. The Asanti put an icon of the stool on their flag, and have fought fiercely to protect it from their enemies.

What must they have thought when Pierre LeGrain, the French Art Deco furniture designer and bookbinder, stole the design of the classic Asanti stool for European clients in the 1920s and ’30s? Do the metaphysical properties of an object or an image stay with it as travels from context to context? In contemporary Western cultural theory, the consensus seems to be that it doesn’t, although I think that, deep down, most of us are not so sure.

LeGrain also borrowed from Constantin Brancusi, the form of whose Endless Column (1918/38) provided the legs for a red lacquered coffee table. Brancusi’s column was itself initially designed as a pedestal for other sculptures; debates still rage about whether the artist copied the form from African tribal art or from Romanian folk designs. Either way, it is curious that this icon of metaphysical transcendence began life as a pragmatic solution for holding another object off the floor.

None of which, I hasten to add, is requisite information for appreciating any of Evans’ art, although its philosophical implications might be useful to reflect on. Evans has become known for making work that, though it may at first look familiar, becomes stranger and more unknowable the longer we spend with it. Two recent series of work consist of sculptures of abstract figures which themselves sit on pedestals featuring the forms of differently abstracted figures. Bodies holding up bodies, as it were. For his 2010 exhibition at Mary Mary, he placed writhing plaster forms on wooden plinths that were based on a graphic of a squatting stickman who might equally have derived from African tribal art as Keith Haring’s illustrations. Evans did not reveal the answer because there was none; both and neither were true. The same year, for an exhibition at Kunstverein Hamburg, he installed plaster objects on MDF plinths that were screen-printed with a pattern based on a drawing of a figure by the primitive expressionist Asger Jorn.

Evans has spoken of trying, in his work, to hold together two (or more) terms that are in opposition to one another. In the examples above, it is virtually impossible to reconcile such different aesthetic registers; the wildly divergent conceptions of what a human body might look like effectively cancel each other out – or, rather, they frame each other in quotation marks. In the screen-printed patterns that Evans uses as grounds for objects to sit on (linguistic membranes between the plinth and the sculpture), repeating icons such as bones or tadpoles line up in dazzling but senseless rows. They look like language, but are in fact only fragments of alphabet, abandoned by syntax and grammar to sit mutely like a tray of letterpress type.

Someone in search of the soul of Evans’ sculptures would probably turn their attention away from his Postmodern plinths and semiotic screenprints and focus instead on the scraped and scarred plaster bodies above. Many evoke the mid-century figuration of British sculptors such as Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick or Reg Butler; it is in these forms that the artist’s tactile encounter with his medium is most evident, and in which we’d expect to find an existential account of human experience.

They are not really bodies at all, but something about their heft and imbalance returns us to thoughts of our naked selves. Many seem to consist entirely of stumps, as if limbless marble statues abducted from Classical ruins had been sealed inside doughy, pale flesh. They are suggestive without being sexy – lumps that look like breasts, a bottom or a penis and testicles remind us of the ludicrous indignity of the human form.

The sculptures’ fecundity is more than just representational, however. Their proliferation (Evans likes to show them in groups) takes on an uncanny dimension when we notice certain shapes repeating across the works. In fact they are all made from a very limited number of moulded forms, which the artist hacks together to make new, Frankensteinian variations. This breeding process turns sinister when it dawns on us that these are not unique expressions of human experience but automatic gestures, concretized and relayed, potentially, ad infinitum.

Is it possible, then, that these objects are actually blank and generic dummies, and the real location of the soul – or truth, or core, or heart, whatever you want to call it – of Evans’ sculptures is not here but, as the Asanti believe, in the stools on which they sit? In his most recent works, these bases take the forms of Pierre LeGrain’s bastardized Brancusi coffee-table; Evans’ extra layer of appropriation drags them still further from any sense of origin or singular meaning. The pedestals are models of lostness, bobbing on a sea of contradictory meanings and holding up husks of bodies that have long since been evacuated.

Perhaps, instead and somewhat more encouragingly, the soul of Evans’ work is secreted in between these clashing registers of
rootless forms. Marcel Duchamp described the infinitessimally narrow space between, for example, a glass and the table it sits on as infra-mince. Evans’ patterned surfaces occupy the infra-mince space between plinth and figure, but there are, of course, further gaps between them and whatever else they are touching. It seems to me that it is in these zones of transition and becoming that the crux of Evans’ project resides. In between meaning and association, identity and expression, remains a narrow, unclaimed space of freedom and potential.


Figgis, Laurence
Exhibition Text, Mary Mary
September 2010

At the crux of Evans’ practice is an aim to demystify – but not satirise – the idea of authentic self-expression in visual art. Firstly there is the desire for a historically-grounded sensibility to operate in both the making and the viewing of the work. Secondly and perhaps contrarily – the work avoids an over-reliance on esoteric references for validation. In Evans’ practice an acute awareness of art history is always combined with an analytical approach to materials and processes. This two-fold rigour is the framework in which to experience an anxious kind of mythopoeism.

‘Anti-Autonome’ features several forms made out of plaster which have as their starting point the “lingua franca” of organic modernist abstraction. This is an idiom so recognisable that it operates almost as a quotation in Evans’ sculptures. But this language-like aspect also occurs at the level of production in Evans’ work. Of the seven sculptures exhibited here, only four different moulds were used; the varying configuration of the – nearly identical – component parts generates the fluid-seeming autonomy of each individual sculpture.

The moulds are like an alphabet (which loses its obvious systematic character in the rapid flow of spoken language). At the same time the underlying fragmentary system is still visible in the seams and joints that have been allowed to remain in Evans’ finished sculptures. We seem to be witnessing a “hegemony of the fragment” – concealed inside a metamorphic skin, reminiscent – at its most vulgar pop-cultural level – of the plasmatic shape-shifting of computergenerated-images (which also originate as a limited system of codes).

The area of anthropomorphism to which the anti-autonomes direct the viewer is, in the words of the artist, “murky” (often highly sexualised), coexisting with a feeling of classical austerity in places. The implied figures are acephalous (charged with the Bataillean overtones of headless beings) or otherwise amputated in the manner of broken gods and nymphs found in the British Museum. While a fixed “illustrational” reference to the human body is eschewed, high modernist purity is certainly denied. For in spite of its lofty associations with academic tradition, plaster also functions here as visceral, dirty – almost scatological – thereby informing the corporeal energy of the finished works.

The supports for the sculptures are themselves rich in formal interest, their pop-primitivism adding to the playful incongruity that operates within the show as a whole. It might be considered audaciously sentimental to engage with themes like primitivist vitality and modernist conviction in our jaded cyber epoch. But the gesture for Evans is not a simple one of return to form (a post-millennial equivalent of Pre-Raphaelite escapism). His Olympian blobs do not pretend to have “broken free” of their corsets and white collars; rather they absorb all the strictures and contradictions of social and material worlds in their dancing bacchanalian flesh.

Thompson, Susannah

Washington Garcia Exhibition Text
March 2009

Only a foolish, excessive politeness (a bourgeois refusal to name what is staring you in the face) could allow the sculptures which form the basis of Nick Evans’ Use History Autonome to be discussed (firstly, at least) as something other than corporeal, fleshly, base.

Yes, yes, we can nod, chatter, speak confidently of ‘formalist values’, references to Modernist sculpture, materiality, the immersive nature of making (etc. etc.) but ultimately, the immediate point to be acknowledged – surely! – is that we are looking at an orgy of breasts, phalluses, bodies. While Evans’ emphasis on this very specific aspect of figuration is just one element amidst an ambitious range of ideas in the exhibition, it is nonetheless central. On the part of the viewer, a focus on figurative or bodily imagery within the work could act as an access point or route of entry to other, perhaps less immediately tangible or evident concerns. This is not to say that the body acts as a metaphor here but, rather, that concepts surrounding abjection, fetishism, consumption and aesthetics are so intrinsically and historically linked to sexuality and the body that form and allusion become inextricable. In other words, these sculptures are models, signifying referents, for wider ideological systems.

Themes of sexuality, sacrifice and amorality are interrogated and explored through Evans handling of a catholic range of processes and materials; fibreglass, bronze, ceramic, rubber. The result is an aestheticisation of violence in which the sculptures might be read as various forms of dominance fighting against one another, both within a single work and between works. Figuration may be vestigial in works such as Extravagant Flesh but the potential for this imagery to flip between abstraction and figuration in an instant is deftly exploited, alluding to similar approaches in the post-war sculptural canon. These bodies, or body parts (limbs, phalluses, torsos, breasts) come out of the tradition of Bataille, de Sade or Pasolini’s Salo; they are debased, craven, transgressive. In a literal sense they have been subject to damage, to cutting and reconfiguration. In Post Rational Man the colour of the flesh is mottled, blotchy, abused, a history belied by the smooth, shiny surface of the work.

The Violent Femme pieces (both black and white) take on the appearance of giant dildos, functional only in their totemic symbolism, or as weapons. It is hard to consider these particular works without recourse to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, specifically the death of the ‘cat lady’ which occurs in surroundings dominated by her collection of erotic works of ‘Modern’ art. In a scene which teeters between the sublime and the farcical, the murder follows an orgiastic display of excessively mannered, highly stylised violence. At the close of the scene the woman is about to be bludgeoned to death by the psychopathic protagonist Alex, wielding Herman Makkink’s phallic Rocking Machine sculpture. The artworks owned and displayed by the cat lady operate as status symbols, signifiers of both cultural and economic capital. Before the attack, Alex is warned not to touch the sculpture, as though it were a ceremonial artefact, the embodiment of magical power or desire. So too, the works in Use History Autonome acknowledge the status of object sculpture as perhaps the ultimate fetish in the context of contemporary consumerism. For Evans, artworks may strive to maintain their mask of autonomy, aloof from the systems of consumption but this aspiration is ultimately doomed. If art’s role is sacred today it is also profane, exchangevalue the only remaining deity. Evans work, then, negotiates the continuing possibilities and the meaning of making sculpture under such conditions. These works are not allegorical or narrative in terms of extrinsic reference points. Rather, through their ‘coming into being’ they become means for the artist to discover an immanent criticality through studio practice, a criticality that emerges out of the manipulation of materials. During these processes – mediation between hand and work – decision making operates on two levels, sometimes highly conscious, sometimes beyond authorial control. Longlimbed, serpentine works appear to morph and remould like bodies in Jan Svankmajer’s animation, and for artist and viewer these objects might be subjects with lives of their own.

We might see within these material engagements the embodiment of an internal struggle for personal, political and aesthetic autonomy, a legacy of Rilke’s discussion of Rodin, or a renegotiation of William Tucker’s ‘Language of Sculpture’ in the 21st century. As a practitioner Evans is nothing if not critically self-reflexive, an approach that is mirrored in the forms of his work. The selfreferential, waxy surface of Extravagant Flesh, for example, exposes the history and process of its own making. Elsewhere, edges are cut, cropped, ground-off and smoothed, while surface and skin vie with mass for dominance. There is an alternation between the deliberate removal of marks (erasing the mark of the maker) and a highly expressive application of marks.

‘Authenticity’ is not guaranteed through the rendering of these visceral, primitive forms. Instead, works such as Mother Tongue, a rubber altarpiece, hollow, backless and incomplete in space, mock the sacrosanct notion of ‘creation’. The works concurrently suggest and deny their own place in a teleological art historical lineage, privileging a genealogical reading of sculptural history. In looking ‘like’ Modernist sculpture, these works both trace and repudiate their ancestry. In doing so, they perhaps critique or destabilise nostalgic references to formalism in recent British sculpture, and add another critical dimension to these densely layered, highly cerebral yet grounded works.

Figgis, Laurence

Exhibition text, Inverleith House
February 2008

Nick Evans’s sculptural works have been shaped by a fluid investigation of his materials. In a sense he does much of his thinking through direct contact with the substances he chooses to work with. This intuitive practice, mixed with analysis is tangible in the finished works which possess an aspect of organic transformation equal to their impressive solidity.

The works evolve through a far-reaching investigation of sculptural possibility. Complex internal dialectics emerge within each piece, via the unusual combination of materials and the gravity-defying stresses placed on substances like polystyrene, steel, aluminium, fibreglass, ceramic and resin. This acute marriage of sculptural spontaneity with physical integrity results in feats of some poise and elegance as well as totemic ambition and psychological power. The works are profoundly shaped by the formalist concerns of their modernist predecessors and by an awareness of their physical proximity to (and potential mimesis) of the viewer’s body. But while they demonstrate a potent historical lineage they refrain from tokenistic references to the work of other artists. The works’ potential representational qualities are also held rigorously at bay.

The sculptures operate within a space of intellectual and material autonomy that is beyond a fussy anecdotalism or bland theoretic. They excite the viewer’s imaginative interpretations through an aspect of knowing primitivism structured on a consistently inventive and intricate engagement with the works’ structure and physical evolution.