The progress of an artist is a curious phenomenon to track. The rare genius, like Picasso, grows by leaps and bounds, changing tack every few years (or even months) to move into ever more fruitful and explosive terrain. At the opposite end of the spectrum are painters like Giorgio Morandi and Amedeo Modigliani, who quietly settle into a groove to pursue a satisfying signature style for the span of a long or brief career.

More the norm--and often more rewarding for the serious student of art--is the artist who struggles for years before finding a voice that is emphatically his own. Such is the case with John Evans, whose latest paintings signal his arrival to what the artist calls a "consistent point of view" and what a critic recognizes as an approach to looking at the world and handling paint that is, in the sum of its parts, like no other's.

For much of his career, Evans worked in the hallowed American tradition of gestural painting, a calling made nearly sacred by several giants of the last century, including Philip Guston, who was one of Evans's teachers at Boston University, and whose delicate touch still lives on in this body of work. From another teacher, James Weeks, the artist learned a way of tackling huge expanses of space--the vastness of land, ocean, and sky--in a way that strives for an almost classical balance of forms.

It is these two tendencies that come together in Evans's most recent paintings. There is still the same building-up and scraping-down beloved of painterly painters from Titian to de Kooning. This repeated searching for a balance of color and light leads paradoxically to a crusted, tactile surface that is nonetheless infused with light. The great danger of this kind of painting for the practitioner is getting lost in the oozy seductions of the oil medium. But Evans finds a way of anchoring the luminous flux: The bright orange disk and slice of shoreline in Moon & Boat immediately draw the eye into the scene and act almost as lightning rods for all the incredible gradations of subtle color. In similar fashion, the nearly indecipherable small forms of Wide Beach with Boats & Buoys act as an anchor for a misty terrain that might otherwise wander off into incoherence. As Evans moves into ever more abstract ways of seeing and painting, it's worth noting that these familiar seaside motifs--boats, fishermen, piers--lose their interest as isolated shapes. And many of the works, but particularly String of Boats and Boats & Clouds , hover on the brink of dissolving into pure atmosphere (a development peculiar to the late works of another devotee of seascapes, J. M. W. Turner).

Evans's preferred locations are the northeast beaches and waters of Maine, Plum Island, and Provincetown, but at this juncture in time they could be any of the remaining unsullied seacoasts of the northern hemi-sphere. He is approaching a kind of universality, what might even be called transcendence in the tradition of 19th-century painters and philosophers. The artist himself sums up his achievement the most succinctly: "Ultimately," he says, "the paintings are spiritual. They're classic in their concern for the ambiguity of two- and three-dimensional space, but they're also theaters that invite meditation."


– Ann Landi is a contributing editor of ARTnews and author of the Schirmer Encyclopedia of Art