By Jenny Neyman
Nikiski’s Jim Evenson brings an extensive resume to the role of juror for the 2014 all-media statewide juried art show at the Kenai Fine Arts Center — lifelong experience as an artist, retired art teacher, master’s degrees in art and painting and a sabbatical to Spain to learn stone lithography form a celebrated career in several mediums with awards and distinctions gained in Alaska, the U.S. and beyond.
Yet for all that history, it took him five seconds or less to pick Best in Show and some of the other award winners among the 40 pieces on display this month at the center.
It’s something he learned from his art teacher in college.
“They said that a psychologist had decided that the first five seconds that you look at a piece you decide whether you like it or not. And you can spend the rest of your life trying to decide why,” he said.
The award winners struck him at first glance and further gained his interest and appreciation upon closer scrutiny.
Best in Show went to “Found in a Cave, Madonna and Child,” by Kathy Matta, a painting of a mother and child done in the style of religious iconography. Being religious, himself, Evenson said that might have been what initially caught his eye, and he soon found both eyes and mind entranced by the work.
“There’s something about that picture that just got to me, and then the more I looked at it the more I liked it. I can’t ignore the fact that it did have a little religious content — which wasn’t against it but wasn’t for it, either, just that I noticed that — and since I’m a religious person that might have helped. But I was drawn to everything about it — the colors, the lines, the frame itself is part of it,” Evenson said.
First place, “Reach of Peace,” by Sue Biggs, of Soldotna, grabbed Evenson’s attention from across the room. Being a quiet, black-and-white photograph of hands reaching for each other under a web of twigs, it spoke to Evenson in merely a whisper, but it was compelling enough to engage him in a thorough conversation.
“I commercially fished (Cook) Inlet for 43 years, and from a distance that reminded me of hands and a net, like they’re going to mend it or something,” he said. “I got a little closer and saw that it’s twigs, but there’s something about the shape of the hands, the darkness and the light, it just got to me. It’s one of those things in this show that’s simple.”
Simple, as this piece demonstrated, can be quite powerful. And it also can be deceivingly complex, as with “Night Flight,” a bowl by Shirley Seanor, which garnered third place. From afar, Evenson thought it was ceramic, so smooth was its appearance and expertly rounded its shape. But when he looked closer he saw it was woven, seemingly simply,
but in the way in which something expert looks easy. Lace inlays grace the lid and base, and small, delicate clusters of beads and feathers embellish the curved sides of the bowl.
“It’s really remarkable,” he said.
Visually complex has power, as well, as in “The Horseman,” a watercolor by Donna Schwanke-Cooper, which was awarded second place. It’s an abstract, full of vivid colors, frenetic energy and a whirl of shapes and textures.
“It’s the only total abstract in the whole show. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that most of the present work that I’m doing is abstract, and so it may have struck me that way. And, again, the first five seconds I looked at it I knew I liked it,” Evenson said.
This piece, as well, excelled under further scrutiny. Abstracts, lacking recognizable forms, can be challenging to judge against more representative imagery, but they succeed or fail based on the same five elements common to all visual art — line, form, space, texture and color, Evenson said.
“And that has those five things,” he said.
Visual art is a lot like music, in that respect. Songs with words are like art with recognizable imagery, whereas abstracts are like instrumental pieces.
“Some of the greatest music in the world has no words, it’s just the notes and the tones. Abstract art is the same thing — it doesn’t have any images that you recognize. “And that’s compared to beautiful, intricate symphonies that don’t have any lyrics,” he said.
Those five elements are the building blocks to making an art piece technically successful. That’s what you learn in school, that’s what you practice, that’s what can
result in homogenized appeal. But it takes something extra for a piece to not just appeal to the eye, but to the soul. It’s translating hope, fear, love, hate, joy, brooding, humor and all the other intangibles of human experience through the visual elements of form, line, space, texture and color.
That’s what’s important for artists, Evenson said — the joy of expression in their work, rather than sales figures or award totals.
“If you’re a commercial artist, everything you do you have in the back of your mind, ‘Can I sell this when I’m done?’” he said.
In other words, do it for you, first, then enjoy whatever secondary benefits might come of it. Though Evenson’s work has been quite successful in terms of recognition, honors, sales and the like, that has always been incidental to his purpose for it. He likes the idea of professional artist — one who creates for himself or herself, appreciating accolades if or when they should come. Not everyone can be a successful artist in terms of
recognitions and revenue, just like not everyone can be a movie star or famous pro athlete. But everyone can find value in the creation and appreciation of art.
“You do the artwork because it gives you satisfaction. And maybe you can get into shows like this and you can sell a few pieces to pay for the materials and to keep the lights on, that’s what I’ve always done,” he said.
Looking around the 40 pieces in the gallery, Evenson said it was clear to him that the artists in the show created for the right reasons.
“There isn’t one inferior work in the whole show,” he said.