Using the everyday as a place of discovery.
Standing in the temporary studio of London based artist Peter Evans, we learn of his fascination in using the everyday as a place of discovery. Working across media and rooted in the use of found ephemera, Evans examines the banality of our daily lives, turning the unremarkable into something quite remarkable. He reclaims everyday objects and materials such as nos canisters, scratch cards and old postcards, working with the familiar and subsequently making it unfamiliar. Language is also a central focus for Evans, as he enjoys re-appropriating text from its traditional context; examining the topics people discuss and how we often stay on the surface, filling space with comments about the weather or other trivial debate. Evans explains; “What is often not said, the passed-over spaces in between and the familiarity of the habitual are what I hold a desire to expose and repurpose, seeking an understanding of the societies we have created, who we are and how we relate to one another.”
Can you tell me how your studio informs the way in which you work?
A lot of what I do, the initial stages, are usually done outside or before the studio. If I’m collecting things to use, the studio becomes the place where some sort of order occurs. I can play around with ideas there, but mostly I do a lot of sketching and planning beforehand, and the studio becomes the final place where I can materialise thoughts, and see if they work. I like to keep it tidy, although it looks like there’s piles of rubbish laying around, it is all in some sort of order, which helps keep my thoughts clear and I can visualise work better. I worked for a long time with just a desk space, making smaller scale works using found photographs or footage, so having a larger space is definitely making me think about making work on a larger scale. That sounds like an obvious thing to say, but it was never an intention to be able to make larger pieces. I think it relates to what we were saying, when you visited, about surroundings; whether intentionally or not I think they will have an effect on your output.
Is your approach to creating work specific and methodical or does it vary from piece to piece?
It really varies from piece to piece. With certain series of works, like the collages using ripped fly posters, the process always begins the same – going to find posters, bringing them back to the studio, separating layers – but then each one can take a different turn so the process then becomes very instinctive. With the scratch card paintings, at the moment they are done very methodically, as I’m making a series using the same materials. I do want to try these using different methods, so it’s something I’m thinking about at the moment.
How would you differentiate your art from “street art”?
I don’t see my work as street art as I’m sort of doing the opposite – taking posters from the street and hanging them on walls in galleries. If I was making work and then hanging it or putting it on the street for people to see, then that might be different. I guess sometimes I inadvertently leave behind some form of decollage work where I’ve ripped billboards off. I did go through a fairly short phase of putting up some wheat pastes on the streets, but I never really felt like it suited what I was doing. I like the ethos behind street art though, and what drives people to do it.
You mention your recent Scratch Card series – can you talk me though the process and what you want people to take from it (if anything at all!)
For a while now, I’ve been photographing and collecting discarded scratch cards, not really knowing where it was going to go. I’ve always thought, when I saw a scratch card that had been thrown on the floor, that it was like an everyday representation of that moment when hope turns to despair. The person could have won a life-changing amount of money but they didn’t, threw away what could have been and got on with their life. Gradually I noticed the markings that had been made on the cards and how each one was different – almost like signatures of despair. I wanted to recreate them somehow, I started playing around with them, scanning the scratch cards, and turning the scratch marks into monochrome patterns. At the moment I’m replicating the patterns using gouache paint on heavy weighted paper. I love the flatness and earthiness of the gouache and how the quality of the paper I’m using for the end work contrasts so differently from finding a bit of thrown away card on the floor. I don’t have anything specific that I want people to take from it at all. I hope people can find something in the work but I like to keep that part of it open. It could represent something completely unrelated to where the work comes from, and that would be great. For me, as long as I can give a bit of context, I think the paintings can possibly go to different places.
Your work could arguably be seen as providing a social commentary on British culture yet you have expressed that you wish for it to be totally subjective, what are your reasons for this?
I never like to think that someone looking at any of my work should be thinking or feeling a certain way. It seems very restrictive to me, to expect the viewer to just think about what I’ve made in the same way I do. I like my work to be accessible, but then to allow for different interpretations or new thoughts. That is the beauty of any creative act, that ten different people can interpret it in ten different ways. I think my interests are fairly visible in a lot of my work, and maybe it’s unavoidable to not relate it to a commentary on British society, but I would always want the audience to be in control of that part of it. If you are making work that is asking the viewer to think, which arguably could be any work of art, then I think it never really stops progressing and changing. Hanging it on a wall or placing work somewhere to be looked at is almost like the start of its life in a way – it’s up to the audience to decide where it goes next.
Your practice is heavily focused around found objects/imagery, with this in mind, did the modern masters such as Duchamp help shape any of your ideas? If not Duchamp, was there anyone in particular?
I guess I wasn’t directly influenced by Duchamp but indirectly we probably all are a bit, without knowing or realizing it. Discovering Hannah Hoch’s work for the first time had a huge impact on me, it really got me thinking about collecting and using imagery in different ways. On Kawara’s work was also very influential, I love the way he took the mundanity of everyday life and presented it in such a thought provoking, beautiful way. There are loads more too, how long have I got? I have to mention Susan Hiller and Martin Creed’s work too. Although they both don’t always use found objects, a lot of their work has shaped ideas or influenced how I think about making works.
Why is text/language such a big part of your practice? What draws you to it?
I’ve always written. I write songs and poetry, short stories sometimes, so using text to make works felt very much like a natural thing to do. I think, as long as it doesn’t direct the viewer too much, that text can be very powerful. I like text-based works that still leave a lot of room for thought, and that aren’t just making a one-dimensional statement. I’m also drawn just to how it looks visually in different forms. I think art is such a subjective area that there is room for a lot of different forms of expression. If you write a poem and present it in a certain way it can become art, or, it is art already in itself, so I sort of see the place of ‘Art’ as like this big blank canvas that I don’t really know how to define. It’s like a mixing ground where everything could possibly come together; poetry, sound, film, anything that works for you, and text helps to link the dots together for me.
You say that your practice is heavily influenced by your surroundings. With this in mind, would you consider travelling to a different city/country to see how this may inform your work?
Yes, definitely, it’s something I think I need to do. Right now, I’m greatly inspired being in the city, but I would love to see what sort of work I would make if I lived in the middle of a field for six months. As a lot of what I do takes directly from my surroundings, I’m pretty sure it would change dramatically. Although, saying that the human, emotional aspects of life translate independent of surroundings though, so maybe some elements would remain, they would just be realised in a different way. Ultimately, what fascinates me is people’s behaviour, and I just use my surroundings to try and shine a light on that.
During my studio visit, you discussed a recent project you have begun working on, a series of portraits that will include text – can you speak about this new venture?
It came about fairly recently, sort of by accident. I’ve always been interested in portraiture, whether it’s photography, drawn portraits or paintings- and I often sketch faces and go to life classes without any real final goal in mind. I also write down a lot of things, over heard snippets of conversations or expressions I hear that I think I might be able to use somehow, usually something mundane that could sound uncanny. I’m really interested in the things that people talk about, how most of the time we stay on the surface and fill space with comments about the weather or other trivial stuff. I was recently on holiday in Italy, sitting by the pool secretly drawing people and happened to write down something I overheard someone say next to a drawing, and it sort of clicked. I made a few more quick drawings and added text next to them and really liked how they felt. As soon as I got home I started painting. I’m enjoying it, as I’ve found a way to combine painting faces with my usual practice of using found, or in this case over-heard, material.
You are working on a new sculpture, which again, brings together found objects but on a far more personal level as the objects are your own – is this the first time you are working in this specific medium?
I’ve made a few small scale sculptures before, and some larger scale installation pieces, but this is the first time that I’ll be using found objects and combining them together. I feel like some of my collages are bordering on being sculptural when I make them, just because they are heavily layered and protrude from the surface, but it’s not a medium I’ve worked with much. I do see this piece as part of a wider body of work, so I think it was a bit of a natural progression or addition to think about something sculptural.
What are your plans for 2018? Will you be working on any more series/projects?
I have a solo show in October at Studio 7, Acrylicize, so I’m preparing for that, thinking about things and getting work ready. I want to carry on with what I’ve been doing but on a larger scale, and see where it goes. I think it’s quite important to never get too comfortable in what your doing, so I’m just planning on seeing how these new series of works progress and taking it from there. I’ve almost finished recording a new song too, which I want to make a video for and show at the exhibition. It’s not something I’ve done before and I’m still not convinced it will work but lets see.
Words by Lara Monro