In 2016, Shawn Evans attended a summer residency at the Banff Centre. During this time he took many photographs, some became source imagery for his explorations there. One image of the mountains, sky and a non-descript rooftop in the foreground, had a particular resonance for him. Four years later, in the midst of the first lockdown for the COVID19 pandemic, the image resurfaced in his studio. As the artist describes it, the lockdowns in Toronto were particularly severe. He recalls times when he, his wife and their two young sons could not even leave the house. In this atmosphere of anxiety and restriction, the landscape became theoretical, and in the studio, accessible through art history, particularly the group of seven. These sources became intertwined in a time of immense change, when it was hard to tell what to trust, what sources were true or not, our external lives turned inward and our tether to the reality we once knew became transient and elusive.
In this context Evans picked up this Banff photo and started to work with it again. He painted the same image repetitively. This process, like in a game of telephone, allowed the message to transform or transcend the literal depiction of reality in the photograph into a multifaceted arena of memory, illusion, alteration, and play. Under this pretense it became easy to entwine a personal narrative with a historical one.
“Starting up a conversation with a bunch of dead painters didn’t seem that odd in a time when I couldn’t physically talk to anyone anyways. Their paintings were very much of their time, and I wanted to bring them forward into ours. I started to reference directly and pull parts of paintings I found a likeness to in my photograph. In a time when our reality was changing daily it wasn’t a huge leap to lose myself within theirs.”
Born and raised in Regina Saskatchewan, Evans had been resistant to a constant pull to paint the landscape, still, it had remained a presence in his abstractions through an ever-present horizon line and use of perspective. Evans likens the Banff photograph to the prairie grain elevator paintings he grew up on, the composition cut in half with ground and sky and the architectural elevator seen as a form in the foreground. The paintings in “Oh, The Places” embrace and confront the landscape head on and true to his artistic voice, layered with an unabashed exploration of colour.
From Forbes.com: A plane-spotter’s dream, the Maple Leaf Lounge at SFO offers a unique vantage point amidst the four runways of the airport. Designed by Gensler, the lounge incorporates cues that reflect both the California landscape and cultural ties to Canada. On a clear day visitors can enjoy picturesque vistas of the San Francisco Bay. The outdoor terrace includes 35 seats with two custom vapor fireplaces by Canadian design house CF + D. Canadian painter Shawn Evans bookends the outdoor terrace with a kaleidoscopic work that makes this Maple Leaf Lounge truly San Franciscan in its celebration of color.
The new Air Canada café at Toronto Pearson airport features “a large mural by Canadian artist Shawn Evans of the places he has lived and travelled. The painting draws upon his memories to evoke the deep and immense spaces found under the prairie sky, to the mountainous regions of the West, to the streetscapes of Toronto.”
Image courtesy of Air Canada.
Lissa Robinson of Galleries West reviews exhibition at VIVIANEART, Calgary:
“The beauty of these paintings rests in Evans’ uncanny ability to combine realism and abstraction into a poetic whole. The monumental and nostalgic feeling is rendered futile by surrounding or imposed elements. His work is as much about the mechanics of painting as evoking narratives of place and memory.”