Evan Jones: A Painted History
Originally Published in Winter 2017
Evan Jones is an emerging artist located in Atlanta, GA. As an avid art collector of WW2 photographs, Jones appropriates aspects of these images into his painting, questioning the idea of inherent truth of photography and the role of painting documenting history. His approach explores historical ideas related to photography and art theory. Interview is between Evan Jones, Ty Bishop, and Justin Archer.
Ty: At what point did art become something you wanted to pursue full time?
Evan: There was never a point that I decided to be an artist. This is just what I've always done. I was constantly drawing my whole life.
Ty: Where you always interested in the figure?
Evan: Yeah.The figures, objects, and human interactions with those objects. Specifically, I like WW2 technology and the advances in airplanes, tanks, etc.
Ty: So you're interested in both history and technology. What about your figures? Are they contemporary? Where do they come from?
Evan: I work with figures specifically from that era because it represents a turning point in world history. It fascinates me. I also work with some imagery from 9/11 which was also a turning point.
Ty: So in a way, referencing WW2 images and contemporary American history with 9/11 is a way of reimagining or processing? What about those images are important to you and your work?
Evan: I’m not sure I know yet why they’re important, other than that I keep coming back to them and I know there’s something I’m digging at by depicting them. The process of combing through the imagery and figuring out ways to manipulate it in order to make it relevant to us today, not in a literal sense, but a broad human sense, is something I’m trying to do. Art has always been a lens to look at what has happened in history to humanity in a more subjective, emotional, or ethereal way. So I don’t see what I’m doing by collecting and choosing to paint these images as any different than that. It’s just adding on to their documentation.
Justin: What is your process in eliminating parts of the image? Do you have a narrative in mind?
Evan: There's a lot formal aspects that go into it and what will make a good image. I want to keep it general. It's about picking out things that will resinate with the viewer. For example, the piece that you feature in the Expo, Tojo Spills a Cup of Water, looks like he is sleeping, but this photo reference was taken after Tojo, the Japanese general in WW2, tried to kill himself.
Ty: It seems that the history painting genre dating back to the French Salon has some influence on your work. Do you see yourself as a history painter or are you dialoging about that?
Evan: Yes to both of those questions. The role of art throughout time has been to document and tell stories of past humanity. It switched pretty recently. You could argue that after WW2, painting became a cultural experience and much more intellectual for the artist. There's conceptual things after WW2 that weren't there before. WW2, maybe technology, open that up for artists. History painting wasn't as relevant anymore. It goes back further than that, but the post WW2 era broke it down.
Ty: What fascinates me about your work how you're referencing something that's historical and academic, but you're going about it in a total post modern way.
Ty: Found imagery is important to your work. You're not creating new images. I'm curious how post modern thought and artists like Richard Prince influenced your work.
Evan: Hugely. Richard Prince is one of my biggest influences. Like him, I would argue that I’m not really interested in making things that come from me. I’m more interested in changing things that already exist. Prince addresses the myth of the cowboy, which in a 1,000 years will go away, but we’re left with the imagery. Maybe Prince’s cowboys will be what historians look at to try and figure out what we were all about. And I think that’s funny because his cowboys aren’t even original, but that says a lot about us, right?
When we look at history, we're looking at ancient Egypt and ancient Rome and the things they produced. We’re left with the products of their thoughts. When I’m collecting imagery, the art happens as I sort through and process these historic images. Thinking about it after the fact. With Richard Prince and artist like him, the idea of taking things from culture and processing through them is important for my work. I’m just going back a bit further because it raises some questions in my mind about when things stop being relevant, and when they become something that happened that we just learn about or see in pictures, versus something we actually “know” about?
Ty: Speaking of images, where do you find your images and what are some of the decisions you make when selecting them?
Evan: Books, internet…I’m constantly looking for them. I collect WW2 picture history books. It’s interesting because a lot of the books use the same images, but crop them and scale them up or down that makes it seem like the image is unique. I choose the images formally and what will make a good painting. I take this image, tweak it in some ways, and then put it back in the world.
Justin: It’s interesting that you take your personal experience with the photography.
Evan: That’s actually something I haven’t thought about, but is pretty fascinating. What happens when you replace the means of documenting history with conceptual ones? Interesting.
Ty: The way you’re interpreting is interesting also. The history of war photography, the way the image was taken was manipulation in and of itself. During the Civil War, dead bodies were staged for photographs. You manipulating the images seems to unravel this. Is that correct or is it more that you are doing?
Evan: You nailed it. Is what I’m doing any different than lining up bodies on a Civil War battle field? Is that any different from what I’m doing with taking images and placing them on a colored background? I don’t know.
Justin: All the figures in your painting are black and white. I’m curious to hear about your decision behind this.
Evan: For the black and white images, it’s about staying true to the original image. I want to keep the history.
Ty: There’s a lot of narrative behind your work. Even from a formal perspective that can be seen. You also include some gestural, quick sketches in your work. I’m curious to hear more about those.
Evan: They have a lot to do with technology. I started out by making these really quickly in photoshop. I would find the image, erase parts of it in photoshop. I would then add back in sections of the images with formal, gestural marks. These marks would replace the history data of the image.
Ty: So it’s a way of humanizing history, in a sense?
Evan: Yeah. It’s about thinking about the role of art in history. Is art still trying to document history?
Justin: And is art manipulating history?
Justin: It’s interesting how you replace the technology in the photography, with a more conceptual form of technology by using Photoshop.