Artists of the Romantic movement in the 19th century wrestled earnestly to express their experience of what they called "Sehnsucht", a profound sense of inner longing in the presence of the transcendent, numinous other (be it nature, or a beloved, or God). The best art revealed this subject/object relationship where we come to recognize both ourselves and something outside of ourselves. The idea of Sehnsucht continues to have power today, because what lies at its heart, the terrible awareness of our simultaneous isolation and connectedness, is so deeply woven into the fabric of the human condition.
Sehnsucht is at the core of John Evans's paintings. If you ask him what drives him to paint the landscapes and seascapes that he loves, he will tell you it is a mental state he calls ' ecstasy .' His radar is calibrated to register those moments when nature presents itself ecstatically, without his having even to seek them. This is because he understands intuitively that the Numinous, that Other which lies behind and beneath and beyond mere visual appearance, is ever poised to reveal itself in what seem to be the most mundane shapes glimpsed in time: the slope of a country road into the distance: the angle of a dinghy lying forlorn on a dusky beach; a solitary, dark tree hovering wildly on a seaside cliff, or a pair of anonymous, mastless boats whose prows chance to align momentarily as they drift languidly in opposite directions. The humble dignity and simplicity of the subject matter is sublimated in flickering planes of luminous color both in the earlier works in this exhibition, in which a great density of marks reveals the vastness of space and light from within, and also in the newer, larger works, without visible horizon, a boat or two recalling figural isolation and intimacy.
The world seen in John Evans ' paintings is composed of beautiful interlocking shapes, in turn awkward and then elegant, that alternately either dissolve into one another or assert their identities to cleave earth from sky, horizon from punctuating vertical forms (trees, piers, signposts) though land and air, vertical and horizontal, are always united by the vitality of the marks and the feeling of accumulated light arrested. The landscape in Evans' paintings is occasionally agitated, sometimes at rest, but almost always silent, a silence from which the radiance of the spirit grows. He assembles different moments of day and place, each with its own particular qualities of light, into a new whole so as to arrive at not so much a summary of the landscape as a revelation of the experience of being in it and outside of it at the same time. Perspective becomes a centripetal force, pulling the viewer in; yet at the same time the dense surface textures, scraped and scratched, mottled and scumbled, crusty, hard-fought, well-traveled by eye and hand, sanded down and then rebuilt again, halt entry into space and concentrate visual energy on the flatness of the picture plane.
Therein lies the key to what separates Evans ' vision from the transcendentalism of the Romantics: it is mediated by the lens of Modernism. Cezanne, cubism, and expressionism have not gone unnoticed. Evans studied with James Weeks and Philip Guston at Boston University, where realism and expressionism respectively were the coin of the realm, so their union in his work seems to have a certain prophetic inevitability. The work on exhibit synthesizes the landmarks on a journey from realism and painterly geometric abstraction through an expressionism akin to Kokoschka's landscapes and finally to his heart's true home: immersion in the sublime in plein-air forays to Cape Cod, the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York, and anywhere else the Numinous might reveal itself in nature.
– Clifford Davis Associate Professor of Art Rivier College, Nashua, New Hampshire