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Nick Evans, 'White Creature Forms', 2006, spray paint on aluminium

In anticipation of his March to May residency at the European Ceramic Workcentre in Holland (EKWC), I met with Glasgow-based artist Nick Evans to discuss the impact of residencies on his practice over the last few years: a 2003 Springboard residency at Cove Park, a 2006/7 six-month residency at Tate St Ives and his recent one at Scottish Sculpture Workshop (SSW) in Lumsden, Aberdeenshire. Throughout our conversation the function of residencies to Evans’ practice becomes clear, providing a useful trigger for an exploration of his work and aesthetic concerns.

His residencies can be separated into those that invite productivity through quiet rumination, such as Cove Park and Tate St Ives, and those that engender vigorous production by providing specialist facilities for a limited time, such as SSW and EKWC. Evans’ work has benefited greatly from both. Crucially, these experiences are punctuated by working in his own studio at Glasgow Sculpture Studios, which provides a space for dialogue with the other artists, his friends, around him.

Because of their divergent parameters and conditions, each residency has allowed Evans to develop his work in a way he may not have otherwise considered. Indeed, these focused periods of time have proven extremely productive precisely because of challenges generated by the peculiarities of the environments. Central to his practice is a tireless investigation of form and material, therefore the hands-on experience of different processes gained in the first type of residency, lends itself perfectly to his pursuit of the limits of substance.

The discovery of mechanical and technical processes that produce and manipulate materials such as metals and ceramics, allows Evans to decide on their application in the context of his work; an advantage lost by commissioning a facility to manufacture an object. He does much of his thinking through direct contact with materials, fostering an intuitive practice essential to an experimental impulse. Equally, the relative remoteness of Cove Park and Tate St Ives provided time for repose and absorption in ideas that propel his work. So, the residencies feed a pervasive tension in his practice as he wrestles with the urge to intellectualise and the competing drive to intuit.

The physical space of Evans’ workshop greatly influences his mode of production, but not the objects themselves. A driving concern is the autonomy of the artwork and the challenges peculiar to producing such work. If there is a context for his sculptures, it’s not the space they inhabit, but the historical lineage of their forms. His work knowingly rests in the realm of formalist experimentation; a continuation of the practice of British artists such as William Turnbull and Tony Cragg. The definite weightiness of Turnbull’s mid-50s primitivist bronzes and the breathtaking fluidity of Cragg’s recent work in bronze and steel provides Evans with markers for the accomplished exploration of the limits of matter. Yet Evans’ forms resist obvious references to the work of other artists or to familiar objects, insisting that the holistic, mostly human-scale sculpture, should be enough in itself to provoke a response from the viewer. Although some critics have delighted in identifying references in his work, this seems an inappropriate pursuit. If anything, Evans exercises a manifest restraint that reigns in his work’s potential resemblance to familiar imagery and forms. At best, it intimates multifarious connections to formalist archetypes, the human body and, very occasionally, the language of popular culture, and leaves the rest to the viewer’s cognition.

Speaking of the forthcoming residency at EKWC, he describes an aspiration to make large-scale ceramics, which he envisages as a combination of Russian dolls and Sottsass stacks; an aesthetic oxymoron that illuminates the incongruity in Evans’ practice as it navigates the space between the figurative and the abstract, permanently oscillating between the two rather than fixing for any time on either one. Having produced a series of abstract, colourful, small-scale ceramics for his show Some Newer Formalisms at Sorcha Dallas, Glasgow in 2005, he is keen to see if these energetic little ‘sketches’ can translate into human-sized pieces, and how. Will the weight and mass of the larger pieces rob the work of the dynamism inscribed in its form or beget a wonderfully curious combination of energy and inertia?

One thing is certain, it is precisely this sort of paradox produced by straddling supposedly antithetical positions and methods, abstraction and figuration, intellectual musing and intuition—that provides the major animating force of Evans’ practice.

Sarah Smith teaches at Glasgow School of Art