Franklin Evans is a Manhattan-based artist. You might have heard of him as a result of his involvement in PS1’s 2010 installment of Greater New York. I knew little about the artist until I walked into his current exhibition eyesontheedge at Sue Scott Gallery. He is a painter and installation artist of the self aware/self conscious brand. Upon entering the gallery the visitor is forced to walk across a Plexiglas-faced bookshelf installed on the floor. Resting on the upturned shelves is a carefully installed library — presumably the artist’s own.
As an artist there is a conscious choice, whether to allow the viewer behind the curtain. This isn’t necessarily a matter of honesty (it is easy to lie, even in the studio) but of power, of how much to expose. This impulse has its own danger. The clichéd image of the artist as a bleeding heart self biographer is probably more poisonous than the Gowanus canal. It is just as easy to retreat across the spectrum behind the steely surface of irony. Evans walks this line. His is a performative practice situated in the act of cutting down that curtain. The artist has carefully transformed the space into a studio where we are privy to a spotlit opera telecast from backstage.
Here is a cacophony of imagery and information. It would be easy to write off this installation as a multimedia scrap book of the artist’s life. We are lulled into a false sense of security, bated with the crusty, romantic tropes of a studio artist. However, spend enough time in the space and the carefully articulated; site specific nature of the project becomes apparent. Only then does the installation start to dazzle.
The installation is a painstakingly constructed, artificial environment that pushes out from the walls. In the middle of the studio the artist’s collection of black and white photographs form a visual diary of inspiration and reference. These forms allude not only to this artist but the space that these sorts of images occupy in every studio. They bring to mind other famous photographs, particularly of Francis Bacon and James Rosenquist, their floors scattered with cut and pasted magazine adds.
Evans’ collection of colorful tape and image based collages ricochet in and out of the artist’s trompe l’oeil canvasses. They appear to embody the crusty, cast off remains of studio practice. On closer inspection we realize they are carefully rendered in paint. Tape, photographs and gridded lines function to foreground the background. When staring at these up close I immediately think of Daniel Buren and other 1970s-era painters. The difference is self confidence. Evans, like many of his generation, has found strength in the unfinished.
The three or four large scale pictures are pinned directly to the wall. Each of these canvasses, like the walls surrounding them, are heavily worked. The surfaces are layered with vibrating color that seems to flaunt a lack of editing. Like a screenshot, they display a moment of creation and deliberation — one transported from the actual studio, or in fact that may never have existed.
In the middle of a stage set with props, these actual paintings are rendered even more special. This is an example of why it is best not to judge a book (or in this case a library) by its cover. Evans is crafty; his space alludes to the systems of perception and judgment all around us. Sure, eyesontheedge confuses and confounds notions of authenticity. It is easy to question what in the gallery is real and what is imagined. It also seems to question whether any of that matters. Behind the conceptual detritus strewn across the gallery-studio floor, the installation seems to smile with irreverence. The rooms of the Sue Scott Gallery are full of the pleasure and complexity of looking.
Franklin Evans: Eyesontheedge continues at the Sue Scott Gallery (1 Rivington Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) until April 15.