|It’s impossible to cram six decades of living and artmaking into one exhibition, but this staggering survey of Connor Everts’ prodigious output from 1948 to the present certainly tries. Consisting of 60 pieces selected by the artist and curator Susanna Meiers, it is installed chronologically by decade. An interview/documentary produced by video-photographer Victor Raphael accompanies the exhibit and is in equal parts charming and informative. Lending insight into Everts’ personal aesthetics, it enhances viewer understanding of the work on display, which can be both challenging and enigmatic.
For the past 30 years (ever since the nerves in his painting hand were severely damaged by a police beating during the Vietnam era) the written word has been a major component in Everts’ work. These collaged, mixed-media compositions (with real photos, scraps of paper, cancelled stamps, personal iconography, and/or faux abstractions) can be big, bold, beautiful and colorful, or muted, gray and mysterious.
By incorporating different languages and different scripts--with various fonts, fragments, phrases, and isolated letters--Everts produces paintings full of symbols that appear and disappear, surfacing or hiding beneath multiple layers of transparent pigment.
Created in series called Sursum Corda, Adonde, or Contextural Shifts, his powerful imagery evokes the precious things we all lose in the misty haze of time, or from fading memory; while simultaneously reminding us of the love we once felt for clear sight, sharp sound, distinct words, and bright ideas. But before that, before the reflective reappraisal that comes from seven decades of experience, Everts’ exuberant embrace of life--and everything it had to offer--has been recorded in his art.
The earliest work in this compendium is a 1948 woodcut he made of himself after reading Goethe. It’s the fifties, however, that proved to be his most formative years. That’s when Everts took graduate studies in London, was an apprentice to David Alfaro Siquieros in Mexico, traveled to Chile to work as a journalist, met Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda, and created powerful pen and ink drawings that reference man’s inhumanity to man. His South American/European experiences greatly influenced his artistic vision, which resulted in the powerful figuration on display in this exhibit.
After returning to California in the late fifties, Everts founded the Exodus Gallery in the city of San Pedro, a place where he also worked nights on the docks as a longshoreman so he could paint during the day. During that same time, he also walked off with first prize in an annual LACMA competition and had a one-man show at the Long Beach Museum of Art.
Next came the volatile sixties. Although he had a successful solo exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of Art, the country suffered the fear of Communism, the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War, student demonstrations and civil disobedience. Those who lived through that traumatic era will never forget the climate after the Kennedy assassination. That’s when Everts’ emotionally packed series, Studies in Desperation, was labeled pornographic by a Beverly Hills’ prosecuting attorney, and he was
The seventies found him instructing printmaking at Michigan’s posh Cranbrook Academy of Design. That’s where he began his dark, flat, foreboding and mysterious Adonde Series (in reaction to the death of Allende), and his Trash Series (composed of odds and ends of iconic mementos).
Returning to California, color, and sunshine in the eighties, he turned an old Torrance neighborhood market into a huge and well-equipped studio. Large enough for everything he needed, including a printing press, he’s been working there every day since.
The Alpha Series and KDS (King David Series) are big, bold, colorful studies of words and language as form--with surfaces that are worked and reworked, figured and refigured, to form what was, wasn’t, is, isn’t, or will be. Mysterious, secretly coded, and enigmatic, these collaged constructions are deeply intriguing.
Which brings us to 9/11 + 1, the largest work in the gallery. It doesn’t take a mastermind to see abstract imagery of the World Trade Center twin towers with all of its attendant horror.
Some of the New Millennium and Contextual Shifts works are still in progress, too close to home for Everts to appraise at the moment. In this “compleat artist’s” latest efforts, he returns to the fifties; faces the doldrums of the seventies, his losses and old age; and conjures memories and experiences of the past. Then he works and reworks these dynamics with keen insight and painful acknowledgment of reality.