New exhibit explores relationship between painting, light

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November 11, 2019

By Mike Killeen

Jil Evans artwork

A new exhibit at the Saint John’s Art Center explores the relationship between painting and light.

Twin Cities artist Jil Evans’ “The Heart’s Bright and Dark Light” runs through Dec. 6 at the Alice R. Rogers Gallery and the Target Gallery. The exhibit is part of the Visual Arts Series at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University and is free and open to the public.

An artist reception is from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Art Center, with Evans making a presentation at 6 p.m.

Evans explores the way light is used in painting to investigate the natural world and myth, habitation and alienation, the passing of worldly glory and other themes. The exhibition also includes new abstract paintings based on her studies of five paintings from the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

“In a workshop I attended 10 years ago, a poet asked all of us to write down 12 things we wanted to see again in our lifetimes,” Evans said in a gallery guide. “A few years ago, I remembered that list, and everything was about light – light reflected on Lake Michigan, light at dusk in August, night filtering down through pines – everything was about light!

“It occurred to me that given the history of painting, the development of representing light in landscapes and interiors and my apparent obsession with light, it was rather odd I hadn’t thought about it in a specific way yet in my own painting,” Evans said. “In this body of work, I set about a two-year study to dive in and think more concretely about the role light could play in my painting.”

The five paintings Evans studied were done by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), Jacopo Bassano (1510-1592), Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900), Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684) and Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828).

Facsimiles of those paintings, along with Evans’ sketches (done with her sketchbook and an iPad using an application called Procreate) are on display in the Target Gallery.

“From those studies came the inspiration for brush strokes, line delineation and especially color usage for the larger pieces (in the Rogers Gallery),” said Jill Dubbeldee Kuhn, Fine Arts Programming gallery manager.

Dubbeldee Kuhn said Evans use of an iPad allowed her to take risks, erase mistakes and solve compositional problems.

“With immediacy, she (Evans) could translate her growing knowledge of light from the museum master pieces into her evolving ‘Heart’s Bright and Dark Light’ series,” Dubbeldee Kuhn added. “So, in essence, she had taught herself a new way to paint. All those studies and all that happening in the Target Gallery led to (the paintings) in the Rogers Gallery.”

The paintings on display are quite colorful with bold lines. In the gallery guide, Evans was asked what her definition of abstract art is.

“My work in abstraction is based on observation, in part because I find visual phenomena endlessly fascinating and mysterious,” Evans said. “In this body of work, I am combining observations in studies of five other paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and my own imagery of river floods on the Cannon River in Minnesota.

“I am abstracting – or taking from – my studies of the paintings, and my flood images, to create a vocabulary for building worlds grasped from our observable world to convey the life of an inner world,” Evans said.

Dubbeldee Kuhn said some people are intimidated by abstract art because they’re not sure what it is they are viewing. This exhibition may foster a new understanding.

Evans helps reduce that mystery by sharing her process. She starts with the realism of the MIA masterpieces and her focus on light. Her iPad and small painted studies show the reduction of recognizable images into activated lines, shapes and colors in light placement or patterns; from there, viewers can see how the large abstracted paintings emerge.

“We all bring a different frame or reference to our experience, or in this case, painting,” Dubbeldee Kuhn said. “If you are in love with color like I am, I may respond to how a color dances through the piece or if it creates an emotional response with me.”

What you can do is just look and see how the color was used. I think in these situations, the easiest thing to do – especially with her use of color – is to just stand back and to look to see how the red was used, and different ways the brush was used. If there are other things that pop out at you, that’s just great.

“The Heart’s Bright and Dark Light” is a traveling exhibit. It will also be on display Jan. 13-Feb. 7 at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania, and from April 18-May 24 at St. Catherine University, St. Paul.

The Saint John’s Art Center hours are from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. each Thursday. The center is closed over Thanksgiving break Nov. 27-Dec. 2.