"John Evans: As Days Go By," Oct. 14-Nov. 13, 2004, at Pavel Zoubok Gallery. 533 West 23rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
The neo-Dadaist and East Village mail artist John Evans made a collage a day from 1964 to 2000, mostly using things he found on the street that day. He embellished each collage with watercolor, and added the image of a duck's head, which he called "Ursuline Duck" in tribute to his friend Ursule Molinaro (1914-2000). These neat, almost architectonic works move from the personal to tales of social and political discontent.
Evans, who was born in 1932 and attended the school of the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York, recently displayed a selection of his collages at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery, which has relocated to a storefront space on West 23rd Street in New York's Chelsea art district. The show was accompanied by John Evans: Collages, a lavish art book published by the independent Quantuck Lane Press and featuring a year's worth of Evans' "daily mixed-media chromatic explosions."
Like Kurt Schwitters, Evans collected "chance encounter objects" -- correspondence with other artists, photobooth self-portraits, clothes labels, business cards, coasters, postage stamps, cigarette packages, maps, ticket stubs, wrappers and rubber stamps.
Mail-art debris and mysterious black calling cards from Gypsy Illuminati co-exist with harmonious India-ink washes. Rubber-stamp monkeys appear frequently on Evans' pages. The simple explanation is that he and his wife Margaret were born in the Chinese year of the monkey.
His other rubber stamps include "Avenue B School of Art" (which appears on his business card), "Insufficient DADA," "Save Sex" and images of butterflies and dancing ducks.
In works spanning almost 40 years, we see self-portraits in which the artist's long dark hair turns to white and then disappears from his head only to reappear as a big white mustache. Our transitory throw-away culture is poignantly reflected in the traces of the artist's own biography.
Evans' visual diary -- each collage is presented on 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper with a stamp of the day's date -- frequently shades over into concrete poetry. The text in one entry, stamped Nov. 13, reads "urgent, real zone, don't even think of poetry here, thirteen, up, caution keep upright, arrow must point to top."
And though Evans' collage diaries are rather more than commonplace scrapbooks, they do document his own art history, including invites to his exhibitions and reviews of these shows cut out from magazines and newspapers.
The collage dated Mar. 28, 1981, for instance, is a confection of announcements of Evans' show at the New York gallery Cordier & Ekstrom, with the central phrase "The Wild Duck" cut from the New York Times. Another work incorporates an announcement for his show at Gracie Mansion Gallery in the East Village as well as colored ink washes and the ubiquitous Ursuline ducks.
The collage from June 26, 1976, features a short review by Hilton Kramer of one of Evans' shows. Kramer calls his work: "a delightful discovery. These (collages) belong to the world defined by the genius of Joseph Cornell. . . a world of romantic invention conjured out of odd juxtapositions of weird and familiar things."
Evans was a member of the New York neo-Dada community that included Buster Cleveland, Albert Fine, Ray Johnson and May Wilson. All died prematurely and suddenly. Their images and work occasionally appear in Evans' collages. Some of the other artists to whom Evans pays homage are the Italian collector and Fluxus artist Guglielmo Achille Cavellini (1914-90), the SoHo pioneer George Maciunas (1931-78) and the New York mail artist Ed Higgins.
Some of his more moving collages are dedicated to Evans' friend and neighbor, Tom Wirth, who died in 1987. Wirth brought Evans' work to the attention of Jim Mairs, the publisher of John Evans: Collages. The book features several pages in the book dedicated to Tom and his untimely death.
For the book, the publisher chose 364 collages, one for each date of the year (save one) -- spread over Evans' entire oeuvre. The collage of July 14, 1989, for instance, is followed by one from July 15, 1980. And in true diary style, one page is all but blank, bearing the inscription, "Bad Cold + Dreadful Inventory for Rentokil. No Collage."
One of Evans' political works is Dump Koch for Dinkins, dated Sept. 12, 1989. It includes a picture of Clayton Patterson, the Lower East Side artist and activist who gained local renown when he videotaped a police riot in Tompkins Square Park and subsequently was sentenced to 90 days in jail for civil disobedience. In another one of Evans' social commentaries, a photo of riot-geared cops on Avenue B is complemented by another sticker that says "Defective" and followed by the image of an American flag.
From my personal observation of John's opening at Pavel Zoubok Gallery, his magical "accumulages" -- accumulation-collages -- are a hot property, with hundreds of art-books autographed and sold and collectors snapping up almost 50 original works. May he repeat his success again in another 40-plus years.