by Jim Ridley
In next week's Scene, we'll pay tribute to one of Nashville's artistic heroes and catalysts, Don Evans, who died Monday at age 74 after a struggle with cancer. As a longtime Vanderbilt professor and art-scene instigator, Evans championed active participation over inert reception, spontaneous creation over ponderous appraisal, eruptive energy and uproar over abashed decorum. David C. Maddox offered this apt description in a 2009 Scene piece about an exhibit of his AA-derived doodles at Tinney Contemporary:
In a town of Nashville's size, calling someone a seminal figure may be a bit grandiose. But the phrase fits Don Evans. A retired Vanderbilt professor, Evans championed a wide-open experimental approach to art that seems incongruous in a conservative institution and town. He had a big impact on students and friends, and stories of Evans-instigated "happenings" and performances constitute part of the city's alternate history.
Joseph Whitt has posted a long, heartfelt portrait of Evans filled with affectionate remembrances and accounts of his legendary happenings, which fused performance, visual art, live music and electronic experimentation. A sample:
For many, Evans’s thirty-two year tenure in Vanderbilt University’s Department of Fine Arts remains a touchstone. It continues to influence at least three generations of student-artists and colleagues, many of whom still cite the galvanizing experience of his mentorship as a formative moment in their lives and careers.
“He was the most progressive educator I ever met,” admits Vanderbilt sculpture professor Michael Aurbach. “Don’s classes in painting, drawing, and multimedia relentlessly demanded that students stretch, improvise, and rely upon themselves. I really believe that his main educational strategy was to give students an opportunity to give themselves permission to do something. He also believed that making art was research in the purest sense, because one had to come up with the ideas and the methodologies independently. One of the things that he passively reinforced in my own teaching was that there are no cut-and-dried formulas for making art.” ...
An affordable glut of war surplus film equipment and three years of service in the army prior to college provided Evans with the access and inspiration to stage Live And In Color — his and Hannay’s “concerto of movie projectors.” It consisted of four white screens arranged end to end, four film projectors positioned to create a twenty-foot-long composite image, and an audience. “UNC’s media center had an incredible archive of old, unused stock footage,” says Evans. “I was allowed to cut, splice and assemble it to my heart’s content. Roger provided a soundtrack which proved to be the perfect compliment. And, we shared authorship of the piece with four randomly selected audience members whom I would instruct, beforehand, to start and stop the projectors in rough synch with Roger’s music. In terms of utility, I suppose it seemed a natural extension of the training films that I’d watched in the army. To make something in this way — collaboratively and in service of people — seemed practical, instructional and less precious than anything that I’d produced in private. It certainly wasn’t easel painting. It felt like painting, but with time."
Also, at his blog Theatre Intangible, Tony Youngblood assesses Evans' influence and impact.
We would love for those who knew and worked with Evans or were influenced by him would post any remembrances they'd care to share in the comments thread below.