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Minnie Evans

American, 20th century.
Born 1892, Long Creek, North Carolina; died 1987, Wilmington, North Carolina.

We encounter in the work of Minnie Evans an art that visualizes a sensed awareness of a greater dimension to existence that transcends, even as it informs, this earthly life. Evans evokes a super-reality, a surreality of a divine, a mythic, a deeply ordered being. She was raised primarily by her grandmother who taught her that the intense dream and waking visions Evans experienced as a child were “signs and wonders” from God. She was strongly religious throughout her life and also affirmed that from a young age she had an intense interest in mythological and historical subjects.

Evans recounted that she had heard a voice in a dream questioning her: “Why don’t you draw or die?”, so she created her first drawing on Good Friday, 1935. A second followed the next day. These were ink on paper pieces, approximately 5" x 8,” the first comprised largely of patetrns of dense frenetic lines around centered circular forms; the second suggested landscape and figurative forms within geometrical horizontal bands. Evans created no more works for five years, but then earnestly began drawing largely abstract images, though some contained figurative elements, especially faces and eyes. Achieved in graphite and wax crayon on small sheets of paper the 144 works she first produced were evidently of great significance to her for she carried many of these drawings on her person for years.

Evans painted and drew nearly to the end of her life. Her works from the late forties on were clearly influenced by the rich floral environment of Airlie Gardens where Evans was employed as a gatekeeper and was able to paint while at work and display and sell some of her art to park visitors. Her most resonant, if mysterious works are the dense floral landscapes from which benign-looking faces peer out seemingly directly at the viewer. Other floral dominated words are inhabited by angels, seraphim, winged devils, serpents, and mythical animals, such as unicorns and griffins. Throughout all, a sense of harmony and peace reigns, in part arising from the inherent symmetry of the compositions, in part from the warm and balanced hues, as well as the calm mien of the eyes confronting the viewer. The works have been seen by many as depicting a harmonious physical world manifesting the divine presence of an all-seeing God.

- Charles Russell

Selected Exhibitions

2014, When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York

2013, Art's Outer Circles: Outsiders, Naive and Self-Taught Artists, Haifa Museum of Art, Haifa, Israel

2011, Fresh Flowers, Sherman Gallery at Boston University, Boston

2008, Ascension II: A Legacy of Self-Taught African-American Artists of North Carolina, Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem University, Winston-Salem

2003, Golden Blessings of Old Age: Out of the Mouths of Babes, American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore

2000, Making Choices, Museum of Modern Art, New York

1998, Minnie Evans: Five Decades of Paintings and Drawings, Luise Ross Gallery, New York

1993, Minnie Evans, Artist, 6 venue traveling exhibition, including High Museum of Art, Atlanta

1986, Heavenly Visions: The Art of Minnie Evans, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

1975, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

1961, Little Gallery, Wilmington, North Carolina

Selected Collections

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Williamsburg
American Folk Art Museum, New York
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Newark Museum of Art, Newark
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Selected Bibliography

Lax, Thomas J., When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South, exhibition catalogue, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2014.

Lovell, Charles M. & Edwin Hester, Minnie Evans: Artist, Wellington B. Gray Gallery, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, 1993.

Kahan, Mitchell, Heavenly Visions: The Art of Minnie Evans, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1986.

Starr, Nina Howell, Minnie Evans, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1975.
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