Ceirra Evans Paints a Complex Portrait of Appalachia

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One of the central concerns of Ceirra Evans’ current show, “It’s okay to go home,” at the Moremen Gallery in Louisville is the investigation of the figurative and textured potential of cigarette smoke. Smoke appears in almost all nine large paintings that form the center of the show. It hangs in the clouds and foams with a cartoon-like chimney puff. It floats in front of two young girls like a lump of cotton candy. It is an elegant arabesque that curls and floats in the night sky. Smoke is not a decoration, but a structural element of some paintings, accounting for one-third of a canvas. It appears in shades of white, but also in faded black and greyish blue. It spouts as a flashy and toxic yellow in a painting.

In the show’s first canvas hanging at the entrance to the gallery, a snake sucks between the fingers of a young woman who puts her head on a table covered with what looks like an invoice or list, and rests from a lying textbook. Please open beside her. Her posture suggests her fatigue. Her eyes are fixed to the Earth, which radiates blue against the dominant red and brown. It’s an image of her admiration and can be recognized by anyone who seeks to escape from home in her research. But homes aren’t just about running away. A striking golden frame on the back wall of the table poses three figures from old-fashioned, novel photographs that you remember on your childhood trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Demonstrates its own magnetic force.

The title of the painting is “People who can, leave.” “People who can’t be taught” evoke a debate about “brain drain” from the Appalachia region of eastern Kentucky where Evans grew up. Originally from Bath County in the hills of the Appalachian Mountains, she currently lives in Louisville and works as a security guard at the Speed ​​Art Museum. This is her second time to exhibit at the Moremen Gallery. The first small group of paintings hidden in one of the gallery’s secondary spaces was impressive with the harsh and often hilarious interrogation of the Appalachian stereotypes: cowboys and bearded bikers, ground pools. A relaxing obese woman, a man drinking beer for breakfast, and above all, a smoking baby sits on his shoulder and hits a match in the kitchen, swarming around the ashtray like an old Ruche.

The two paintings from the previous show are now adorned at the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville, next to Moremen. “Day care” is especially crowded with groups of absent children. Cigarettes are hanging from the mouth and smoke is zigzag like graffiti against the red sky. Like most of the paintings in previous shows, the character’s personality blends mostly into the caricature. The red nose and dull contours of the face turn them into clown or carnival figures. (The self-portrait has the same characteristics so that you don’t think this is the line of sight of an outsider.) The caption next to “Day Care” in 21c is that Evans’ paintings use humor to “caution” the Appalachia stereotype. It suggests that it “evokes” and encourages the viewer. To reflect the assumptions they have about the American working class. But I experience images that are not easy to assimilate into progressive virtues. Their humor rubs their shoulders with anger, and anger points in all directions — as with regional stereotypes, but also with the regions that provide stereotyped feed. The picture is interesting, but it’s suffering. I am sad again. Of all the characters in “day care,” only the smallest of the polka-dotted onesies stares at the viewer in a way we can read. It’s devastation.

The figures in the new paintings are influenced by cartoons and cartoons, but most often leave caricatures for something close to recognizable psychological realism. This brings new kindness and intimacy to Evans’ work. The two biggest paintings on the show show the crisis. In “Everyone Needs Lil’l’s Help,” women are waiting at the food bank while workers load food into their cars. In “Bless His Heart,” one man crouches down on another, falls to the ground, turns his back on us, and his hands are probably grasping his chest. In both pictures, the peculiarity of the scene setting is impressive. A box of yellow ponchos and bananas from the food bank. Redman chewing cigarettes and Marlboro Red, which may not be unfairly assumed, have something to do with the condition of the fallen man.

It is worth noting that all Evans paintings categorically reject viewers’ sympathy. In Lil’l Help, the face of her assisted woman is almost abstract, with contrasting planes of pink and light green, with opaque white dots showing expressionless eyes. .. The aid worker’s face is similarly obscured (pink stain) or simply absent. In “Bless His Heart,” the crouching man’s care posture doesn’t notice the drama unfolding with his comically crooked cigarette and five smokers at the table behind him. Ignored. Both paintings combine stylized illustration aspects (industrial smoke clouds, diagonal rain) with painting-like effects and intermittent and supportive real-life research. So, in “Bless His Heart,” there are two windows in the room and the elaborate play of sunlight and shadows caused by ceiling fans that can be perceived through smog, the light reminiscent of the bare bulbs of Picasso or Gaston. In Lil’l Help, a traffic cone with elaborate contours gives off similarly elaborate reflections, leaving a picture on the folds of a poncho worn by a person in the foreground.

Ceirra Evans, “Day Care” / Courtesy More Men Gallery
Ceirra Evans, “Whiskey River” / Provided by: Moremen Gallery

In an interview, Evans acknowledged the autobiographical nature of the new painting and stated that all characters were relatives. The exhibition is divided into two rooms in the gallery, a small space containing the most intimate works, and Evans benefits most from his new interest in subjectivity. In “Whiskey River,” named after Willie Nelson’s famous song, a lonely man sits in bed, holding a lit cigarette and drinking a bottle of beer. The sign visible through the partially painted blinds says “RV Park Camp”, suggesting temporary or unstable containment. Again, the cartoon-like shape, the thick contours of the man’s body, the toxic smoke puffs, the pink and brown of the carefully textured torso, and the meticulous notation of the cloth folds that cover the lower body. Conflict with.

I stood in front of this painting for a long time, trying to unravel the source of its emotional power. It’s not like a man whose eyes are painted white, like a woman in “Lil’l Help”. The cartoonish smoke humor and the skull tattoos on his shoulders distract the obvious melancholy. Still, painting has a kind of compromised charm. He is a person who is bordered by the light shining through the window, as if he had amber in his memory because of his admiration. (“I’m drowning in the river of whiskey,” Nelson sings in the song. Intimate and placed beside him on the bed. I’m the second or third to the show. On a visit, I learned that the man was Evans’s father. A carefully drawn tattoo on his neck spells out her initials.

Appalachians have always occupied a large and somewhat flashy space in American imagination, with Georgia to New York, and blacks, Latino Americans, and Asians representing the growing segment of the population. Called “Trump Country,” the poverty of whites was endlessly exposed. In particular, the success of JD Vance’s “Hill Billy Elegy” runaway has sparked intense debate about the region’s expression, which Appalachian activists and artists see as a moral portrait of Vance’s white “endangered culture.” I opposed what I was doing. Much of the work done in response to Vence’s book has emphasized the history of mountain diversity and progressive labor politics. Thank you for the correction, as it can be read as a hopeful and well-meaning propaganda, as if it were a strange multi-ethnic coalition for social justice that most characterizes the region. You can also. Such a coalition should exist and be part of the story told about Appalachian culture. They are not the most typical feature of my experience in the countryside of Kentucky.

Evans’ work avoids both controversy and publicity. In a clear record of the texture of poverty, it faces the difficult truth about Bath County. Bath County is ranked one-hundredth of the 120 counties in Kentucky in terms of wealth. (By the same criteria, Kentucky ranks 44th out of 50 states.) At the same time, the painting dispels the flat myths of the Appalachians, showing that the region corresponds to multiple types of stories. I am. Evans, who is nothing more than the title of a painting such as “There is no politics on the table,” lies to Appalachia’s characteristic of being ideologically homogeneous. (Trump won more than two-thirds of the votes in Bass County, but in both 2016 and 2020 he voted for Democrat Andy Beshear in the 2019 governor’s election. Suggests that you are a radical MAGA The enthusiasm often projected in this area may be an illusion. )

The ghost of brain drain that occurred at the beginning of the show is recalled in the last canvas and the exhibition is titled. A young woman doing a country punk haircut, showing her trash bag in one hand. She stands in front of a concrete pouch in a house or trailer. There, an older woman (presumably her mother) leans on what looks like a welcomed wrought-iron pillar. Her mother wears an Eastern Kentucky University sweatshirt, which is a flag of upward mobility. (Evans’ brother, who is a character in some of her paintings, is a college graduate. By the way, my father, who was also the first member of his family, attended college.) Evans Appalachia PBR and Tobacco; It is also a place where families who love Quia’s children can welcome them home.

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