Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Evan Walters - moments of vision

Last Week, Seren Books published their new art publication Evan Walters - moments of vision. This was launched at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea which was appropriate as the Gallery holds a substantial archive on the paintings of Evan Walters.

Evan Walters (1893 - 1951) was born in Llangyfelach, Wales. He painted a variety of subject matter and styles including, portraits and landscapes, he explored perception and its representation through a style which evoked 'double vision'. His career is bookended by extremities of the treatment of painting and subject matter. His early paintings of miners are exceptional, they are grounded in observation and fact, while his last painting style are free-floating products of the imagination.

This book was edited by the wonderful Barry Plummer and contains around 70 written responses to a single painting / drawing by Walters. Contributors include, artists, cultural commentators, authors, curators, politicians, musicians , etc. This book becomes a valuable introduction to this overlooked painter. This book can be purchased at Seren Books and all royalties go to Noah's Ark appeal to a children's hospital.

My contribution to this book is a 1500 word essay which explores my introduction to the Walters' paintings and discusses a painting called 'Blackened Face with Reclining Nude', which made a strong impression on me while I explored the Walters archive.
As a taster to the essay, here is a short edit ................

...his has been an interesting artistic journey about moving away from the social and industrial reality and the harsh facts of the industrial world and ending in a vision of pure fantasy, subjectivity and the unconscious. Resembling a combination of Munch, Magritte (his vache period) and outsider art. Notions of perception move from the science and truth of looking into emotional truths. The art mirrors this journey and become signposts. I guess the destination of this journey is something that Walters would not have planned or even wished for. Art is ultimately a portrait of the artist at a given time. Everything changes, and the world often disappoints. Art becomes a way to manage disappointment. Then, as now, artistic ambition, creative freshness, intellectual clarity, physical vitality gives way to the realism of entropy. With these works one should not be quick to judge but quick to empathize...

This theme of identity is taken up again and my personal favorites in these na├»ve series are a few paintings that take a backwards glance and readdresses the industrial themes of his earlier work. They are given a treatment that is wholly fresh and untypical of the industrial genre and include ‘Blackened Face with Reclining Nude’. This is a painting of cinematic arrangement; set within an ambiguous outdoor landscape, the foreground is dominated with a brooding male head, with blackened face of a collier, a full-bodied reclining female nude occupies the background. This is a complex and contemporary image, which transgresses on a number of levels. Here, Walters plays with our expectations of the stereotype of the macho, rugged, hard collier brutalized by their work, their faces blackened and made anonymous by coal dust. It is not only artists who stereotype miners but miners themselves are complicit in this identity construction through their own projection of self and self image. This is role-playing and social based theatre.

Blackened Face with Reclining Nude is a rare example of transgression occurring within mid 20th Century Welsh art practice, here is an industrial / sexual narrative of role-playing and fantasy. This is a very risky image. Tragic / comic and sinister stereotypes amalgamate here, that of the collier, black and white minstrel and Gimp-like S & M character, creating an unsettling, strange and uncanny image that is untypical of the industrial genre. Coal dust covers the face, transforming it into a sinister and solid black mask concealing identity (Evans was a painter of camouflage during the first world war so he knew the value of disguise). The dark sooty mask becomes a negative image of the self, a psychological shadow of darkness enveloping the skin and manifestating itself on the outside like a dark curse. The viewer is teased to create a possible narrative between the relationship of the inviting female nude figure in the background and the ‘Collier’, whose turned away head reveals downcast eyes full of melancholic guilt, sexual fantasy and longing. Clues to the identity of the individual underneath the mask is hinted within the facial areas not blackened, around the eyes and mouth. Revealing a vulnerable, sensitive young man, whose sensuality is emphasized by his ruby red lips. 

Cover: Paperback
Date: 1st July 2011
IBSN: 9871854115423


Jonathan Glasbrook Griffiths said...

Hi Peter

The painting's correct title is "The Rhondda Venus." It was included in Walters' last one-man show held at the Alpine Glub, South Audley Street, London in May 1950. Speaking at the time Walters offered his own explanation for the painting, revealing,

"Nothing suggestive about it, it is simply a painting of two human beings with high ideals. I chose the miner because he represents the finest breed of men."

I hope this rather prosaic interpretation does not spoil your enjoyment of what is still by any assessment a remarkable painting.

Peter Finnemore said...

Thanks Jonathan,

Great title - The Rhondda Venus....Your update is much appreciated, I also think its a strange and interesting painting, I enjoyed thinking /writing about its possible interpreatation. I think Barry Plumber has more plans about bringing Walters's work to the wider public in the near future.

Bestv Wishes