PRINT January 2004

Matthew Higgs on Simon Evans

A HABITUAL COMPILER OF LISTS AND AN AMATEUR cartographer, Simon Evans seeks, through his self-consciously rough-edged art, to impose a semblance of order onto the chaos of his daily existence. Born in South London in 1972, Evans arrived in San Francisco in 1994 as a professional skateboarder, though he would soon distance himself from the world of pro skating and turn his attention to making art. Self-taught in both vocations, Evans draws an analogy between the skater’s and artist’s daily negotiation of his immediate surroundings—an activity Evans identifies as “problem solving.”

His “list” works—text pieces that collide the humdrum aesthetics of a handwritten shopping list with a strong dose of adolescent existentialism—read like furtive memorandums. Among the twenty individuals who comprise the roster of People You Must Be Nice To, 2003, Evans identifies not only his doctor but “all those that make your food” and the “Jesus type with the good resume.” The twelve-item list of Things That Don’t Exist, 2002, includes, reasonably enough, “slow motion.” All that’s wrong with sex, 2002, begins, somewhat gloomily, with “death and babies” and eventually poses the conundrum “What about the fact that at some point sex has to include another person.”

For his debut show in 2002—held in the closet-size back-room gallery at San Francisco’s Adobe Books, a secondhand bookstore that doubles as a drop-in community center for itinerant artistic and literary types—Evans developed a satire based loosely around Gulliver’s Travels that ultimately charted his own emotional landscapes. Popular T-shirts, 2002, for example, a drawinglike collage that masqueraded as a mail-order form for crudely rendered slogan T-shirts, privileged the somewhat dysfunctional aspect of Evans’s outlook. Among the merchandise provisionally offered for sale were shirts bearing such sad-sack slogans as “Everyone wants to have sex with a teenager but no one wants to date one” and “very sad.” This misanthropic posturing was apparent in a number of works in the artist’s 2003 solo at San Francisco’s Jack Hanley Gallery. Central to that show was Evans’s most ambitious work to date, The World, 2003, which reimagines San Francisco—or something that passes for San Francisco—as an island fringed by a ring of piers like broken teeth. Employing the free-associative method of an aspiring psychogeographer, Evans set about renaming virtually every city block and street. The financial district has thus been reinscribed as “Currency HQ”; elsewhere, neighborhoods such as “Medium Poor” and “Immigrants Stink” speak of social divisions that still predominate in the Bay Area. Created from line drawings made on several hundred fragmentary pieces of notebook paper and precariously held together with clear adhesive tape, Evans’s island kingdom appears positively entropic, as if teetering on the verge of collapse. In Counting the Dead, 2003, more than a hundred dead flies were stuck onto a sheet of paper in specimen fashion, each named for someone or something departed: a cryptic list that included Anne Frank, the “Dog I Mistakenly Walked to Death,” and “Uncle Brian who drowned in his Cab.” In 1,000 Smiles, 2003, a thousand Hollywood grins have been divorced from the pages of magazines like Teen People and arranged in grid fashion to form a permanent sampler of insincerity.

Evans acknowledges a debt to Paul Klee, whom he claims to admire principally for his titles. However, it’s not difficult to read in Evans’s work echoes of Klee’s scratchy, outsiderish mannerisms and also to detect a simultaneous desire on Evans’s part to follow Klee’s famous impulse to “take a line for a walk.” Simon Evans’s works take great pleasure in their self-immersed, ambulatory logic—a logic chock-full of neurotic detours and shortcuts and, inevitably, a few wrong turns and dead ends.

Matthew Higgs is a curator at the CCA Wattis Institute, San Francisco, and a frequent contributor to Artforum.