John Evans, artist whose collages were a diary
By Lincoln Anderson
John Evans, an East Village artist who created a collage every day for nearly 40 years, died on Oct. 5.
According to Pavel Zoubok, who represented him at his Chelsea gallery, Evans died of a sudden heart attack, following an extended battle with hydrocephalus. He was 79.
Evans was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1932. He studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he received a bachelor’s degree (1961) and a Master of Fine Arts (1963).
He then moved to New York, settling on Avenue B in a four-room apartment renting for $35 a month. where he from 1963 to 2000 made a collage every day, especially with things that he found on on the streets the day, such as labels from beer bottles, business cards, concert posters, newspaper clippings, matchbooks, playing cards and pencil shavings and embellished each collage with painted duck heads.
In 1964 Ray Johnson introduced Evans to the international Mail Art underground. In the beginning, the works went from one artist to the next one, with each adding some embellishment before mailing it on. Evans liked to use the stamp “Avenue B School of Art”.
Starting in 1964, he made a daily collage on a page of a bound sketchbook, date-stamping each work. Filling numerous books, he continued this practice through the year 2000. He chose to conclude the series on the millennium, which seemed to him an appropriate end date. A monograph, “John Evans: Collages,” was published in 2004.
His collage materials ranged from newspaper clippings, business cards, product stickers and ticket stubs to bits of ephemera or random photos found on the East Village streets. He used colored inks to build upon the collage elements. He employed abstraction, typography, ironic juxtaposition and Dada and Surrealist sensibility in his pieces.
His collages are mini-time capsules that mark the end of the Vietnam War, New York City’s 1970s fiscal crisis, the 1980s club scene and art market and the AIDS crisis and its devastating impact on the art world.
“It became not so much his diary, but a diary of everyday life — all the flotsam and jetsam of our lives,” said Zoubok in an interview with this newspaper two years ago when the gallery was showing an exhibit of Evans’s work. In that show, Evans wanted to focus on the Tompkins Square Park riots and gentrification. In addition to images of the clashes, his works of that period are interspersed with product labels of foods one would find in local bodegas.
“It was not just the East Village, but a particular slice of New York,” Zoubok said of those collages, “a kind of experience that, unfortunately, the gentrification of the city has kind of altered.”
In an interview two years ago, Evans told this newspaper that part of the reason he had remained on Avenue B was because his rent was still cheap — under $200.
“I’ve lived here for 40 years or 50 years,” he said. “Everything has changed so many times. When I first came here, Avenue C was like going to Europe. There were people with pushcarts; they were selling buttons, chicken or eggs, whatever. Then the hippies and Puerto Ricans came...”
Asked what the meaning of his diary of daily collages was, he said, “It’s just my life.”
Our throw-away culture is poignantly reflected in Evans works. His visual diary –each of over the 10,000 collages on 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper is marked with the date– is much more than an ordinary sketchbook. Evans was a member of the New York Neo-Dada community with Ray Johnson, Buster Cleveland, Albert Fine, and May Wilson. To them and other artists, such as the Italian Guglielmo Achille Cavellini, the Fluxus artists George Maciunas and Ed Higgins, Evans paid tribute to on his collages.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret Evans, twin daughters, India Evans and Honor Evans, and their families. He died October 5, 2012 in his hometown New York.