|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following auto-biographical data is from the artist's statements on Women's Voices for Change: Redefining Life After 40:|
Leya Evelyn: On Being a Woman Artist
January 27, 2009 by Evelyn Leya:
One of the more vivid memories of my childhood: I am nine years old,
walking down the middle of my one block-long street in Bethesda,
Maryland with my neighbor and friend Carol. We‘re telling each other
how much we wished we were boys. All the things boys could do
were so appealing to us then—sports, strength, audacity. My dad
was working in the yard, and I remember his smile as he overheard our
I wouldn’t want to be a boy. And I’m not sure I really did
then. I knew they were very different from girls, and I was
curious. Carol had a brother and I was envious of that.
There were always boys in her house. I had a sister; I only knew
Over the years I’ve been very aware I am in a male-dominated
profession. All the instructors in my undergraduate art classes
at Brown University and Yale’s MFA program were male. I heard often the
assumption that the men in our class would have careers as practicing
artists and the women would be teachers.
Actually, while there were fewer female students, every single one had
one ambition: to be an “artist.” Very few male or female
students expressed an interest in becoming teachers and giving up a
career as professional artists.
Yet the students from my class whose names I see on gallery listings
are always male. I don’t know what has happened to the female
artists. Possibly, like me, they are still making art and having
various degrees of success. I’ve never believed we couldn’t do
it—couldn’t be on top of the pile of aspiring artists, to be the
successful one, regardless of sex. It just takes dedication,
persistence, confidence, and probably, most important, a feeling of
stubborn necessity. I love painting. I feel privileged to live where I
do and do what I do.
In the late 1970s in New York, I had a friend who would call up famous
female artists. She’d hang up just when the person answered the
phone—all she needed was to hear the voice of a successful
artist. Inspiration: It’s all around us.
As a young artist I was fascinated by Louise Nevelson's
sculptures. I saw her works in major galleries and museums and
never thought of them as “women’s art”. They were just good
art. They also fed my confidence that “it” can be done.
When I saw Eva Hesse's retrospective at the Guggenheim in the
early 70’s, I did, however, think about her being female. As seen
in the image at left, Hesse was very attractive, very feminine in
her bearing. Yet there was something daring about what she did,
her sculpture, the experimentations with materials, something neither
male nor female. Again, inspiring. I’ve read recently in
Louise Bourgeois’ writings she felt very intimidated by the male
dominated art-world of her day. But she never stopped
working. And that in itself is inspiring.
Like a racehorse, I’ve always worn blinders, just looked straight
ahead. I’ve not thought about gender in the production of my
artwork. I paint because I have to paint. It is the blood
that runs through my veins, a vital necessity for my life.
I have at times used techniques and images that are labeled
“feminine”— circles, sewing the canvases, soft colors. Men have,
however, used circles and soft colors, no doubt, and there have also
been men who have sewn their canvases. A well-known New York
artist once did a lot of sewing on his paintings, crudely decorative
additions. I don’t know if he still does. They are very good
pieces. For a few years in the ‘70s, I also did some sewn
canvases. At that point I was looking for a way to clean up my
canvases, make the “statement” of the work more direct, have the mark
clearer; my paintings had been too “fuzzy”, no definite imagery, just a
color field and a few faint lines.
In the sewn pieces, I would stain canvas with thinned acrylic paint,
cut it up and sew it back together in more obvious forms than I had
been using. But people would usually comment that sewing equals
female, even though tailoring has traditionally been a male-dominated
occupation. Because I didn't put them on conventional stretcher
bars, I stopped doing these sewn pieces when my step-mother referred
often to them as hangings, not paintings. To me, hangings made
them feel too decorative and this has never been what I am looking for
in a painting.
If you want to push the point, I use male/female imagery now:
circles/lines, often in a tense relationship with each other. But
I don’t think much about that part of painting, what the symbols mean,
just about what feels right, what works on the painting as I am making
it, what makes a painting sing, more about the song than who is singing
I just hit five feet in height. This actually surprises people, as my
paintings are big and have a boldness that I am told belies my size and
gender. I used to think that the best thing to be, as a female artist,
would be black and tall: As a Tall Black Woman I could proclaim me,
while as a short Caucasian, I don’t really think it is worth talking
Studies recently show happy people live longer — and that people who
are happy know how to play. Making art is a form of play, doing
something with love, passion, caring, trying out ideas, taking
risks. The place in the brain that governs the need to make art
is likely the same in both men and women.
Possibly it is that place where a person, either male or female, knows
how to play. In a way, it’s like someone obsessed with a video
game: we take our “play” very seriously. It feels like an
inner need. It is also an offering to society, not just a game at
home. Something beyond the person. Seeing art as
gender-specific is a societal thing, but actually, if you look at a
piece of art it is usually impossible to tell the sex of the artist.
What I really feel most strongly is that the paintings should speak for
themselves. Currently the consideration of sex is less important
in viewing artwork. And I’m sure this trend will continue.
Women wouldn’t allow it to be otherwise.
Leya Evelyn lives in Nova Scotia, where she moved in the early 1980’s
after having lived and worked for some time in New York City. Curator
Gil McElroy writes of Evelyn's work: "Given our human tendency toward
seeking out recognizable things, we look for what might be
representational and identifiable in Evelyn’s paintings. And
indeed we can find it here, in the form of fragments of images the
artist has appropriated from popular magazines and collaged into her
work….Her art actively resists the constriction of tidy categorizations
like “representational,” or “abstract,” while simultaneously exploiting
them. It is a delicate balancing act that has made for some powerful
|Biography from Linda Fairchild Contemporary Art:|
|The paintings of Leya Evelyn explore non-verbal, intuitive means of
communicating. The painting method itself -- as a ritual of becoming --
is the narrative.|
The mixed-media work emerges from "empty"
surfaces and includes collaged images which have been
photo-silkscreened onto canvas. Writing, inspired by the
photographs, is buried beneath the paint. The texture, visual
impact and depth of the many layers of materials and concepts are
intended to capture the complexity of life. Together, paint,
collage, words, form and texture build up into a density that reveals a
deeper, non-literal, experience.
The work also arises from a
fascination with colour: how it can take form, create space, provoke
awareness and challenge perceptions. The raw process takes on meaning
only as refracted through my familiarity with the idiom of abstract
painting. The collage, my responsive writing, and layers of paint and
colour imply the balance and tension between public expression and more
private, inner experiences.
As the layers accumulate, imageless
forms become the wordless language of emotion. Removed from specific
contextual references, these works become a metaphor for the
elusiveness of knowledge and experience. This evolution
integrates deeply personal experience and exploration in an environment
of universal nonverbal interaction and communication.
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