Evan Robarts

Evan Robarts Interview - By Steven Cox

HUNTED PROJECTS presents the work of Brooklyn based artist Evan Robarts.

Melting popsicles, crystallised basketballs and tricycles solidified within cement reference Evan Robarts' fascination with fossilising transient memories linked to childhood. With nostalgia feeding the basis of Robarts' work, his playful manipulation of found materials cleverly toy with oscillating metaphors that simultaneously highlight ones detachment from youth and a longing desire to revisit and encase the past.

Can you tell HUNTED PROJECTS about yourself and creative background?

ER: I grew up in Miami Beach and moved to Brooklyn in 2001 to study at Pratt Institute. I initially started out as a Painting major and later switched to Graphic Design, back to Painting, and then finally ended up in the Sculpture department. It was difficult for me to commit to one major because I enjoyed all disciplines, and I still feel that my work blurs these boundaries. I currently have a studio space located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard that is funded by a group of private investors known as the Artha Project. The other two members of the project are my two good friends and fellow artists; Tyler Healy and Dean Levin. We collaborate by curating shows, organizing studio visits and constantly bouncing ideas off one another.

When did your interest within the arts begin? 

ER: From as early as I can remember I've been drawing and painting, eventually branching out into collage. It wasn't until college that I began sculpting. My early artistic interests revolved around the figure, with the intent to interpret the human form through a variety of materials. As time passed I moved on to embrace a much more diverse range of media.

Can you discuss your day-to-day creative process?

ER: I am unfortunately not able to be in my studio full-time so I try to take advantage of any available moments I have. When I am not in my studio I keep myself engaged creatively and open to new inspirations and ideas I encounter on a daily basis. I am constantly writing and reflecting in addition to taking photos of happenstance compositions and materials I see on the street. Oftentimes these observations find their way into the studio and into my creative vernacular.

Sentimentalism and nostalgia are prominent themes that run through out your work, for you explore and manipulate objects most commonly associated with childhood. One work in particular, Maturation (2012), metaphorically suggests the fossilization of time passing through casting the wheels of a child’s bicycle within cement. Can you discuss this work within the wider context of your oeuvre?

ER: I began working on Maturation in the beginning of 2011 but just recently finished it in the fall of 2012, over a year later. It was one of those pieces that literally had to mature in the sense that over time the relationship between the materials became congruent. Overall, it's a simple piece and not as ostensibly dynamic or bold as some my earlier sculptures. There is a clear narrative to the piece, which is not typical of my work. Usually, I try to say as little as possible so that the piece can speak for itself, but with Maturation, it felt appropriate to work in reverse and take a literal approach with my subject matter. 

Was this work left in the background of your studio for yourself to return to when you felt the time was right?

ER: Yes, this happened twice actually. I keep multiple projects going on at the same time in order to build up a body of work simultaneously as opposed to committing to one piece. This process may be more time-consuming but allows me greater perspective and the opportunity to consider my technique. The practice of detachment allows me to meditate and re-approach each piece with a clear mind. Many of the materials I use are found and have a particular patina and history, which requires me to take a unique approach with each work.

What changes were made to this work whilst it was in the development stages?

ER: Changes to this sculpture included reconsidering the height and posture of the tricycle as well as details such as the color and style of the handlebars. At one point I had even painted polka dots on the base. There was also considerable experimentation with the cement in terms of its application. In total there were five coats of cement applied over a foam base but only the last two applications are visible in the final product. I ended up chiseling away at the first three coats because I was unsatisfied with the runoff that pooled on the floor around the front and back wheel platforms. This was incredibly frustrating but after the fourth application I realized that I had come to like it. Living with the sculpture over time allowed me to achieve a certain clarity and resolution to the piece that I may not have had otherwise.

Your Popsicle works exist in diverging formats, either as paper works that could be interpreted as painterly, or as a sculptural floor work that is site specific. I am interested in your relationship with this work considering its versatility and flexibility in regards to on-going exploration?

ER: My interest with this body of work lies within the symbolic weight of a melted Popsicle. In this respect, it allows my application to be independent of any particular format, whether manifested in two-dimensional form or as an installation. I have been developing the popsicle series longer than any of my other work and it still feels like it is the farthest from completion.

How has this work developed over the years and do you see this work ever being fully realized?

ER: I began the series on paper and then moved it to the floor as an installation. The recipe, application and composition are the three areas I have been consistently trying to hammer out but it has been an uphill battle. The ironic truth of this piece is that even though it's incredibly graphic and visually straightforward, it's also highly personal and psychological for me. I am looking back in time trying to recreate memories of my youth epitomized by the image of a melting popsicle. Ultimately, I do foresee closure with this body of work but it is something I feel requires more experimentation.

What is the most important first impression that this work should make to your viewer?

ER: I think this is where the problem lies for me because I am trying to evoke both happiness and sadness: an emotional yin-yang. One of the themes I explore in my work is the unencumbered joy of youth that is inevitably lost. It is this intangible feeling of bliss coupled with its simultaneous loss which I am trying to communicate. In a sense, it is an oscillation between these two emotions that I am striving for.

Regarding the floor installation of this work, I am interested in what guidelines for presentation you have? Is there a correct or incorrect way to have this work installed and exhibited?

ER: My past installations have all been anchored to a corner because I want them to be on the periphery of the space rather than isolated in a central location. Subtlety suits this presentation well since the colors are so saturated and this helps to balance the experience. The installation is intended to have an organic composition, similar to a wave washing up on shore. 

Your work titled Basketball is part of a 3 piece series, would it be a fair evaluation to suggest that this work/s pay tribute to the childhood tendencies of windows being smashed due to ball games? (Perhaps this is a very British interpretation due to ‘ball games’ being commonly prohibited in many residential, non-park areas of the UK)

ER: Yes, I think that interpretation is definitely UK specific but great to hear a different take nonetheless. I agree there is an air of angst in my work but it's something inherent in youth culture at large. I had dreams of becoming a professional athlete in grade school even though I was always picked last for basketball during recess. All those memories are now metaphorically crystallised in glass in an attempt to hold on to my transient youth, As in Hoop Dreams. I like to think of memories literally crystallizing because molecular formations are a great visual inspiration to me.

Can you tell HUNTED PROJECTS about your curatorial project entitled CUHLLECTION?

ER: CUHLLECTION was an online portfolio of artists, with whom I had worked, studied and, in some cases, grew up. It began post BFA after several unsuccessful attempts to penetrate New York City's exclusive art community. I felt very disempowered and wanted to do something positive for my peers who were in a similar situation. I didn't initially think it would lead me to curating, but that's what inevitably happened. 

What do you have planned for 2013?

ER: My hope is that 2013 will involve growth in all aspects of my life. Ideally this will entail collaborating with friends and meeting new and interesting people that can challenge my own views on art. Having these meaningful relationships is all I can ask for.

Evan Robarts