“Less is More”: An Interview with Jillian Evelyn
JILLIAN EVELYN is an artist originally from Michigan and now living in Los Angeles. Evelyn’s paintings investigate the depths of awkwardness, discomfort, and contortion both from external expectations and within one’s own thoughts. Evelyn paints her figures and abstractions bathed in vibrant color. Evelyn is able to reflect her personal conflicts while allowing for the viewer’s personal interpretations.
K. Iver: You place your subjects in contorted positions, all the while letting them express emotions that women, in real life, aren’t allowed to express, at least in environments that cause such metaphorical or literal contortion. The emotional contrast of cramped bodies with freely-expressive faces implies a kind of rebellion against a patriarchal system, a system that isn’t “natural” for anyone. Are you thinking about the patriarchy with a capital “P” when you paint? (If not, what goes through your mind when you paint?)
Jillian Evelyn: When I found my voice through my style about four years ago the patriarchy was definitely on my mind. Trump had just become President even though he had been caught making comments like “grab em by the pussy” and had 20 plus women come forward accusing him of sexual misconduct. It was devastating to know that people, even some of my family members, looked passed that behavior and voted for him. It was a wake up call on top of my own struggles with trying to meet societal expectations in the form of my body, sexuality, and career choices.
KI: You confront a messy intersection of the political and personal with clean lines, vibrant colors, and easy-to-access geometry. What’s your intention there?
JE: My first year in college I studied graphic design, I think that year heavily informed my style and taste. I believe less is more and I like to leave things a little ambiguous so that it leaves room for the viewer to make their own interpretations.
KI: You repeatedly place other characters and objects in the frame, such as dogs, around which the female bodies are affectionately wrapped. Why dogs?
JE:I grew up with dogs and have always felt a strong appreciation to their loyalty and intuitive behavior.
KI:Other subjects love cigarettes, which bring a certain “over-it” energy to some frames and an “on-the-edge” disposition to others. Can you talk about that?
JE: My mother smoked my entire childhood and that’s how I remember seeing her deal with stress. It’s interesting because this upsets some viewers, because they think I’m glorifying smoking but it’s actually the opposite. Visually, cigarettes represent defeat.
KI: I heard you made a switch from acrylic to house paint, and that you like to intuit your colors. How did that come about?
JE: When I was first starting out, it was more affordable for me to use house paint plus it was a lot of fun picking out color palettes using the chips or color matching to random items. It was also comforting to make trips to Home Depot, a place that reminds me of my parents. My mom worked for Home Depot for about 20 years as a kitchen designer, and my Dad is a carpenter. But I recently switched back to acrylics and I’m enjoying change and vibrancy.
KI: You went from working in shoe design to painting full time in LA. What’s that transition been like?
JE: Wonderful. I always knew this is what I was meant to be doing. The entire time I was in footwear I was working on the side to try to find my voice—and that took a long time. I am happy that it took me while, I think I needed those years to learn things I couldn’t have on my own.
KI: You’re originally from the Midwest. How did you get into art?
JE: I’ve always been the kid that could draw and it was really the only thing I could do better than my three older brothers so I kept doing it. I didn’t think it was possible to pursue a career in Art until I was a junior in high school. I became really close with my friend Davis Turner and his family. His dad was an artist and so was his older brother, their house was covered in paintings. I LOVED going to their house—it really changed my life.
KI: What’s next for you? Or, what do you hope is next?
JE:I hope to keep pushing myself. I’ve learned that I can’t really predict what’s next as an artist—style isn’t something that you can plan and a lot of things come from constantly making art and making mistakes.