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.
Shawn Evans attended the Alberta University of the Arts in Calgary, graduating in 2009 with a BFA in painting. He has since moved to Toronto, Ontario where he has an active studio practice. He has works in both private and public collections including several works with Air Canada and a large painting on view as a part of the Esker Foundation Collection (Jim and Susan Hill).