There is an urban myth about an art history student whose assignment was to write a 2,000 word essay on Michelangelo’s statue of David. As the story goes, he pasted a couple of pictures onto a piece of paper and wrote the following: “It is said a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are two of my favorite pictures of the Statue of David.” The myth goes on to suggest that the student received an A for his creativity and outside-the-box approach to the project. This story has inspired me and I have used the premise to guide my career. Whether or not it is true is academic – the premise is dead on.
I was thinking of this story as I climbed the stairs to interview local expat artist Evelyn Johnson. I had met her briefly a few weeks prior on a bus trip to Ingapirca and Devil’s Nose. I had heard from others that know her that she is a brilliant artist. I had seen her art on her website (www.mindstormphoto.com/art) and while I thought it was good, I wouldn’t have gone as far as saying it was brilliant. But then too, rarely do pictures of artwork accurately portray the depth and emotion behind each brush stroke. And never do they tell the story of the artist that painted them. In my 25+ year as a journalist and magazine publisher, I have had ample opportunity to interview artists, but in all my years I have not had an ethereal experience equal to what I felt when I first laid eyes on Evelyn’s work up close and personal. Part of me wants to stop here, tell you that her art transcends words and leave you with a few pictures. This, however, would not even begin to tell the story because, as I discovered, there is such an intense amount of depth and emotion in Evelyn’s art that really needs to be experienced. Understanding this, I will do my very best to share mine with you.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Evelyn’s husband Burt who is, in his own words, a hobbyist photographer. After seeing his photography, referring to him as a hobbyist is akin to referring to a Ferrari as a car. Burt’s travel and studio photography are some of the best I have ever seen. I bring this up because Evelyn uses Burt’s and her own photographs as the foundation of her works of art. Because both Burt and Evelyn have an uncanny way of capturing the raw emotion of their subjects in their photography, it is abundantly obvious and equally poignant when transferred to canvas via brushstroke. This emotional transference, in my humble opinion, is what makes Evelyn’s work absolutely brilliant. Each and every piece from the blue-footed boobies to the roosters to the indigenous people she paints evokes emotion. Combine this with the mesmerizing way she combines colors and I was almost waiting for the subjects to walk, or in the case of the tortoise and crabs crawl, off the canvas and into the living room. Life-like is a term thrown around by those that review art, but in the case of Evelyn’s work the term doesn’t quite fit. Sure each has a life-like quality, but her way of bringing the subjects to life is more surreal or dream-like.
Perhaps Evelyn’s background explains why her art is so exceptional. She grew up in a traditional Chinese family where the folly of an artistic career was discouraged. In school, Evelyn was allowed to pursue art and even won awards, but her artistic ambition was put to the side for a more practical career that included working at Apple Computer. It was during this time when Evelyn experienced Steve Jobs’ relentless pursuit of perfection. As the head of Apple’s real estate department, Evelyn witnessed Jobs scrap a huge project midstream at great cost to go in an entirely different direction, which was closer to his idea of perfection. Combine her professional career with growing up poor, and her desire to become successful despite her upbringing, and one realizes where her drive to be exceptional in everything she does comes from. Add passion that grew from not being able to pursue her dream and the result is, as I experienced, art that is truly brilliant.
Evelyn has shown her art in shows with other artists but she has never had her own show, until now. Her exhibit, Visions of Ecuador: Landscapes, Animals and People (Visiones Del Ecuador: Paisajes, Animales, y Gente) opens at Galería Larrazábal (located on Calle de San Sebastián 1-80 y Mariscal Sucre, Parque de San Sebastián here in Cuenca) on Wednesday, March 9, 2016 from 6-9 PM. If you missed the opening, you can still “feel” her art first hand until her show ends on April 5, 2016 (the gallery will be open Monday to Friday: 9:00 – 13:00 / 15:00 – 18:00 and Saturdays: 10:00 – 13:00). Evelyn is the first North American expat to have been invited to show at this prestigious Ecuadorean gallery.
At this point I could include that she has studied with renowned master artists in many mediums, including oil, pastel, charcoal, acrylic, watercolor, and clay sculpture. I could tell you that she is currently working with Alberto Soriano, a master Peruvian artist. However, standing before her art and experiencing it on emotional level, as I did, somehow makes these things unimportant. Certainly the journey is relevant, but in Evelyn’s case it is eclipsed by the sheer magnificence of the end result, her art. As the character in the urban myth suggests, a picture really is worth a thousand words. In Evelyn’s case though, if you stop there, you will miss out on the visceral experience her art will surely provide. But don’t take my word for, see for yourself.