Open Frequency 2009: John Paul Evans selected by Karen Ingham
John Paul Evans, Green Triptych, 2007
Karen Ingham profiles the work of John Paul Evans
As I write this, Tate Britain has just opened what purports to be a definitive show of Francis Bacon's work. Considered one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century, Bacon gained notoriety for his distorted depictions of the human body. Looking at the photographic artist John Paul Evans' series 'Bed Sheet Dreams' (2005) is like seeing aspects of Bacon's work rendered for the digital age: colour and form shifting and metamorphic; gestures uncertain, bodies distorted with grin and grimace.
It is this work 'Bed Sheet Dreams' that I want to write about here, as it represents a departure for Evans, not in terms of subject matter, but in terms of concept, form and approach. A series of photographic self-portraits using a digital camera held at arm's length, the images depict what Anthony Howell describes as a grotesque amalgam of '…horror and laughter, abject and sublime tensions'.1 This is evinced in the image 'Blue Dream 3' (2005) in which Evans' expression is at once monstrous and 'other'. 'Pink Dream 1' (2005) is womb-like and suggestive of birth and innocence, while at the same time alluding to the sexuality of the mature male body. 'Red Dream 3' (2005) is fully sexual; red the colour of passion and blood, and the moment captured orgasmic and visceral. 'Pink Dream 13' (2005) offers another transformation, an androgynous figure caught in a moment of shimmering transition. These subtle shifts and transformations are emphasised by the strong background colours of the sheets, which imply psychological subtexts and art historical antecedence.
For all their painterly qualities these are unmistakably photographs and in this, as in previous work, Evans has a deep engagement with technology. In 'Bed Sheet Dreams' he does not simply engage with technology, but embraces it, quite literally holding the camera at arm's length while moving over the bed sheets in a cybernetic fusion of man and machine. The camera becomes an extension of the artist, an extension that is inverted - turned inward not outward - unlike the historical role of photography, that of the 'window on the world'. In the world of 'Bed Sheet Dreams' the camera explores an inner subjective world of imagination, fantasy and projection. Evans' loose and playful use of the digital camera allows for slippage and accident, the slow shutter speed and subsequent blurring making it impossible to know exactly what will be captured.
The inability of digital camera technology to capture movement in the same way as analogue photography, Cartier Bresson's 'decisive moment', is precisely the random factor that Evans exploits in this work. Evans describes his images as capturing 'a movement of time, rather than a moment of time'.2 Movement or moment, Evans is an artist who thinks deeply about his practice. His explorations of the male form and male sexual identity represent a twenty-first century exploration of the photographic male nude and its physical and technological adaptation into the male 'body'.
Karen Ingham, May 2009
John Paul Evans is Senior Lecturer in Photography in the Arts at Swansea Metropolitan University.
He has exhibited nationally and internationally including touring solo exhibitions: Hunks & Heroes, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester (1996), Dark Secrets… Mortal Thoughts, commissioned for Newport Museum (2007), A Different Point of View, commissioned by CBAT Cardiff (1999), and Bed Sheet Dreams commissioned for the Room Gallery, London (2005).
Selected group exhibitions include: Idolatry, Oriel Canvas (Cardiff, 2007) and Barbarella, a touring exhibition for Kent Council (1998-9). Selected publications include: Emmanuel Cooper, Male Bodies, Prestel 2004; Edward Lucie-Smith, Art Tommorrow, Editions Pierre Terrail, 2002; Emmanuel Cooper, Fully Exposed, Routledge, 1995.
About Karen Ingham
Karen Ingham is an artist, writer and curator, and the director of various research initiatives in lens-based arts, and arts, science and technology collaborations at Dynevor Centre for Art, Design and Media at Swansea Metropolitan University. She was born in England but raised in the United States, Germany and Norway, returning to England to study time-based arts in Nottingham in the 1980s. Following graduation she worked as an independent film director and screenwriter before moving to Wales where she worked at Chapter Arts Centre and the BBC before returning to her own practice. She gained an MPhil with the University of Wales in 2001 and a Doctorate in 2006 with research into historical and contemporary arts and science collaborations in the anatomical theatre.
Ingham works in lens-based arts and her practice is interdisciplinary, incorporating theory and practice. She has received support from The British Film Institute, The Wellcome Trust, The Arts & Humanities Research Council, The Arts Council of Wales and The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. She was awarded a 2006 Arts & Humanities Research Council 'Sci-Art Fellowship' for the project 'Seeds of Memory' where she collaborated with the Cardiff Neuroscience Research Group, and her installation 'Vanitas: Seed-Head', has been shown at The Waag, Amsterdam (2005) and ENTER 3 Festival, Prague (2007).
Her practice has been widely exhibited and disseminated with publications in distribution with Dewi Lewis Publishing, Ffotogallery Publications and Seren Books. Her research focuses predominantly on: biomedical discourse, 'Anatomy Lessons' (2004) and 'Re: Embodiments' (2008-10); the mind-body continuum, 'Vanitas: Seed-Head' (2005) and 'Seeds of Memory' (2006); the photographic memento-mori, 'Death's Witness' (2001); and the notion of place and belonging, 'Lost' (1998), 'Paradise Park' (2000), 'Ha Ha: Margam Re-visited' (2002 and co-edited with Christopher Coppock), and 'Unnatural Histories' (2008). Karen Ingham is represented by Millennium Images London and IRIS International Resource for Women's Photography.
Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.