Evan Robarts

Evan Robarts in dialogue with Steven Cox

Steven Cox: Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background, and how/when you first started working full-time as an artist?

Evan Robarts: I was born in Miami Beach, Fla., but currently work in New York City. I go back down to Miami as much as I can between projects to visit my family and friends; it’s home for me down there. I didn’t start working independently until 2016 and I still find myself taking on freelance work every now and then as a way to clear my thinking. Before I became financially independent I worked frequently as an art handler, waiter, janitor and in construction. When I take on work now it’s mostly for other artists because I always learn from the experience.

SC: Can you tell me about your current studio and working routine? Do you have any morning rituals or habits that contribute towards a productive day within the studio?

ER: My current studio is in Chelsea, New York City. It’s a basement space with no windows so it’s important that I get out to breathe fresh air throughout the day. Either going for a run or spending time in a park helps me recharge. The most impactful morning routine for me is meditation. I try and practice it twice a day for 20 minutes. Spending time in stillness allows me to gather my concentration and outline a trajectory of things I have to complete in my day.

SC: To what extent do you consider your city as being an influential factor in the shaping of your work? 

ER: The examining of relationships between the individual and society is a driving force behind my work. Cities like Miami Beach and Brooklyn, where there are a broad range of cultures, definitely lend themselves to this approach. Recently my work has leaned heavily on some of the local politics happening in my neighborhood as a segue to a broader critique of social mobility. My concerns are approached as both an insider and an outsider in regards to some of these issues, having worked as a superintendent in East New York, Brooklyn, for several years. Many of the materials used in my practice originated from this experience: painting walls on a scaffold; fencing the backyard; mopping the hallways; cleaning the sidewalk with a hose; and watering plants.

SC: What projects/works are currently in progress in your studio? What future exhibitions and projects do you have scheduled?

ER: Recently I’ve been constructing various sculptural assemblages and a lot of drawings. I just had a solo show at Berthold Pott in Cologne, Germany, which was a huge undertaking. Now I have a little space to make art that’s more experimental. The remainder of 2017 is a mix of projects. I’m taking part in an alumni survey exhibition this October at Pratt Institute where I studied. In late summer I’m doing a residency program in Miami at the Fountain Head which I’m very excited about. More to come but that’s good for now.

SC: The title of your inaugural exhibition at Berthold Pott, A Bright Cold Day In April, is taken from the opening lines of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Knowing the source of your exhibition title, I can’t help but feel that you are highlighting the normalization of suppressed critical thought. Perhaps you can discuss the importance of this title and why you wish to touch upon political issues? 

ER: Even though I disagree with the political beliefs of the Trump administration, I have a deep respect for the electoral process. My candidates don’t always win but what concerns me with this particular administration is their consistent rejection of the press. The idea of a president operating behind closed doors is ethically wrong in my opinion and reminded me of Orwell’s novel. This particular political issue became the jump-off for all the work I made for the entire exhibition.

SC: Within A Bright Cold Day In April, I was particularly interested in your new work ‘Newspeak’ which took the form of a deconstructed newspaper racks taken from the streets of Nyc and Brooklyn. This work not only abstractly resembles an American eagle, but was also installed in a high position that forced the viewer to look upwards. I am interested in how this work touches upon free speech, whilst ironically being taken from an environment where free speech is becoming increasingly censored. Can tell me about the creation of this work, and how important this work is to you, and within the conceptual context of the exhibition?

ER: For Newspeak, I was thinking about how information travels and is manipulated in the contemporary political climate. I decided to interpret this in a very literal sense by forcefully altering the vehicles that symbolize the press into a form that connotes freedom. All the works in the exhibition touch on restrictions of expression in some capacity pertaining to lower and middle-income families. This form of class critique within a hierarchical structure also underscores each body of work.

SC: Within this exhibition, your monumental scaffolding work stood tall overlooking the gallery space. It was fascinating experiencing this work within your inaugural exhibition, for the utilitarian function of scaffolding symbolizes improvements underway, preservation and repairs. I am interested in how scaffolding is international and simultaneously symbolizes both gentrification and homogenization. In what way did you wish for this work to be interpreted within the context of your inaugural exhibition at Berthold Pott?

ER: I have found that the more interpretations a work has the more successful it is for me. What you said is correct: the symbolism of scaffolding is synonymous with the conversation of urban development. That’s something I’ve been mining for a while but there’s another angle since the meaning is not in the scaffold but the paint on the wall. I see the painting as being physically restrained and incarcerated by the scaffold preventing a direct connection. This restraint and captivity is something I have been thinking a lot about recently.

SC: Focusing on the titling of your works, how do you choose your titles? For you, what is the role of an artworks title? Do you feel that titles alter a works interpretation? Some works are also left untitled…

ER: I don’t think the success of an artwork should be contingent on if it is titled or not. I firmly believe the work should stand on its own and titles are secondary. I give my work titles only when I want to; it’s not a stance when I don’t— I just prefer for the viewers to come to their own conclusions at a certain point. There’s something very desperate and insecure about trying to control every interpretation of a given piece of work. I choose my titles over time. They don’t come to me immediately which is frustrating but it happens when it happens.

SC: Can you please tell me about your studio setup? Would you say that your current studio is ideal, or are you currently seeking a new/better space? 

ER: I’m really happy where I am at the moment. I’ve been working in the basement of Klein Sun Gallery in Chelsea for over three years. I used to work for them as their art handler and then transitioned to a full-time practice downstairs. I’m very close with the gallerist, Eli Klein, who has been extremely supportive of my career. His program focuses solely on Chinese artists, which has really informed my work. The gallery I work with in New York City, Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, is also right down the street. Working with Bryce and his team has been a tremendous experience.

SC: I am interested to know how you plan your works. Do you begin with preparatory sketches of some form, or do you prefer to work in an improvised manner?

ER: I believe both methods are equally important and in my experience, when combined have proved to be the most effective. Improvisation is a gateway for discovery but there is a point when an idea should be refined, particularly if the artwork is part of an ongoing series. My sketches are done in a multitude of ways: pen on paper; digital renderings; even making miniature models has brought me considerable perspective and clarity.

SC: I am interested in the notion of preciousness and at what stage a painting or work becomes discarded in the studio. Do you have a tendency to destroy failed paintings/works? Or, do you aim to be as efficient as possible when planning a work so to avoid destroying anything? 

ER: Those boundaries are blurred in my practice. I purposely keep failed works in the studio because I have come to realize I lack a sense of detachment when I gauge success. Some of the works I made in the past that I initially considered mediocre turned out to be quite strong as time passed. Being the artist, it really is difficult for me to have an objective look at the work, but over time that clarity pops up. I think this process involves my forgetting about the work and then remembering it some time later. I like to let the older work sit on the periphery of my studio because of this. Sometimes I will reuse them in different ways; other times I’ll keep or discard them.

SC: I am also curious about the documentation of an artworks creation. Within my own studio I regularly take images of paintings in progress so I can note specific points in the works creation. How regularly do you document the progression of your works? Is it important for you to take note of a works evolution? 

ER: I’m constantly taking photos of works in progress and archiving them. I have a detailed library where I catalogue these images for future reference. Patterns emerge over time and help me to make informed decisions.

SC: The ideas you choose to explore incorporate materials that are sourced from your immediate environment. These materials vary from metal chain link fences, balls, basketball hoops, floor tiles, scaffolding, newspaper racks, garden hoses, mirrors and more. What qualities must a material own for it to be interesting to you? Also, what comes first, the material or the idea?

ER: I’ve used so many different materials I don’t think there are any expectations at this point. The drive to move forward with one or another is through an impulse or gut feeling that I receive when I encounter the material in the real world. In this way it is the material that comes before the idea.

SC: You have created a series of sculptural “line drawings” which take the form of hose coiled through sheets of glass, tinted glass and mirror. How do you choose the composition for the hose, and what was it about these materials that enlightened you to use them in this way? Do these works begin with preparatory compositional drawings?

ER: Much of my work employs strategies from the tradition of painting and sculpture. Deconstructing and finding ways to reinvent the picture plain allows me to focus on the logic behind the work. In this particular series, the hose is a validation of the line as a force that can penetrate boundaries. As I mentioned before, I’ve been exploring ways to critique hierarchical structures and the ways in which they stratify society. Having a hose coil through a sheet of glass captures this desire to connect and bridge these gaps conceptually. With this series there are many preparatory compositional drawings using sheets of plexiglass as a stand-in for regular glass. With this material I can easily drill out holes to find the exact drapes and curls I want in my composition.

SC: Do you have any dream projects in mind that you would like to do in the future?

ER: I would love to collaborate with performance in some capacity. To me, that’s really exciting and would add a whole new dimension to the conversation.

Be sure to visit Hunted Projects Studio Visit With Evan Robarts

Evan Robarts 

Images courtesy of Evan Robarts, Berthold Pott, Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery & The Hole NYC.