Tom Evans at Sideshow Gallery

Installation of Tom Evans’ paintings at Sideshow Gallery; courtesy White Elephant On Wheels

* * *

Maybe it’s the season and the dropping temperatures. Maybe it’s Sideshow Gallery and the haimish atmosphere it cultivates. But mostly it’s the paintings of Tom Evans. How else to explain the wave of heat radiating from far-off Williamsburg?

Far-off? Williamsburg is a quick jaunt on the L train. No, we’re talking aesthetic distance, not mileage. While Evans’ robust brand of gestural abstractions would look fine in this or that Manhattan venue, their plainspoken sincerity stand in stark contrast to the sleek, chilly ambiance of the Chelsea Standard. A longtime inhabitant of the New York scene, Evans is heir to the New York School and an unswerving advocate for the art of painting. The untrendy niche he’s carved for himself can be traced, at least in part, to a perpetual embrace of risk and the vulnerability it signals.

Evans is a romantic who isn’t afraid to fall on his ass. The paintings are muscular conflagrations of brusque brushwork and overripe color. Fields of dotted pigment and unexpected bursts of light move fast and burn slowly. Effulgent blues, acidic purples, operatic reds and shocks of green—Evans hasn’t met a saturated color he doesn’t like. Chromatic indulgence is offset by compositional poise. Each time a painting threatens to disentangle (or explode) into its constituent parts, it’s held in sharp, if sometimes tenuous, check.

The majority of pictures are scaled to the human body—around 6 feet by 5 feet. Their roiling trajectories are determined by the arm’s reach; enlivened by it, too. The few occasions when Evans works on a smaller scale, the results are less allusive, more reigned-in. An artist who thrives on letting it all out should give himself ample space to do just that. When that artist hits the mark—as Evans does in the magisterial St. Adrian’s (2008)—the results generate not only heat and light, but also something distinctly humane. Evans’ paintings are a welcome respite from the professionalism that surrounds us.

© 2011 Mario Naves

Originally published in the December 13, 2011 edition of City Arts.

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