Review of Margaret Evangeline: Shooting Through the Looking Glass (Charta, 2011)
Originally published by The Brooklyn Rail, March 2012, http://www.brooklynrail.org/2012/03/art_books/margaret-evangeline-shooting-through-the-looking-glass
There is something inherently philosophical in the work of Margaret Evangeline. Every project throughout her active career endeavors to examine and reframe her physical and emotional understanding of the world, easily seen in Margaret Evangeline: Shooting Through the Looking Glass. The included texts reveal the wealth of source material that influences her, from film to literature to simply her physical location, yet at a certain point these accompanying texts divulge too much of the mystery, and thus emphasize the over-complication in her oil paintings. The photos and minimal attributions describing the artist’s most streamlined work—the bullet paintings—strike a visual and philosophical sweet spot by showcasing her technical execution and conceptual impetus.
Evangeline extends her studio practice beyond studio projects, finding enlightenment in everyday experience. Ideas garnered during unmediated acts of existence, like tending to her West Village garden or observing changing light patterns, fuel her forceful will to create. In an interview with critic and curator Dominique Nahas, Evangeline states that mankind’s motion between the two extremes of meditation and creation provides the primary source of tension in her work. Her artwork is exemplified by a devoted investigation of the in-between: emotion and perception, object and experience, component and concept. Her creative output also lies between disciplines, fluctuating from painting, sculpture, and site-specific installation, the extent of which is illustrated in this publication.
Her signature “bullet paintings”—highly polished steel panels punctuated by bullets fired at the surface—are a prime example of this creative crossover. Nearly half the monograph is devoted to these works and extensively documents the myriad forms her bullet paintings have taken. In her series “Shooting Through” and “Once Upon a Time in America” the artist created countless bullet paintings, positioning the chaos of primal, human aggression against the machined steel surface. By polishing the metal to a mirror finish the support becomes precious. As the bullets rips through this seductive surface the resulting intricate, delicate marks alter the concept of steel. The imperfect metal surface immediately evokes Lucio Fontana’s slashed canvases, yet Evangeline’s agenda differs from Fontana’s: the bullet pieces are concerned with the shift in perception through reflection.
In an elegant and unsettling way these works establish the paradoxical qualities present in much of her art. Initially they are painting-like objects, but they gain a sculptural quality when viewed. The bullet holes bend and distort the reflective panels, causing shifts in perception, immediately providing a new vision of the world. These works achieve a “heightened sense of space” by altering the way an individual visually experiences a locale, fostering new realizations and understandings specific to that space. Depending on its installation every shot piece offers the potential for an unprecedented conversation to develop between the viewer, the object, and the location. Evangeline’s project at Art Omi International Arts Center, “Gunshot Landscape,” capitalizes on that ability, opening a discussion about perception and domination of nature, gun culture in America, and the individual.
Her oil paintings from “The Golden Mend” series and from “Where Your Path Crosses Mine” are reproduced beautifully, and they operate in opposition to the shot steel pieces. They are additively created, contrary to the shot steel works. In “The Golden Mend,” the artist mimics kintsugi, an ancient Japanese method for repairing broken pottery with gold, by brushing a shimmering pigment in mending gestures on the support. These actions of ritualistic mending gestures are compelling concepts, yet the visual results are not equally as interesting. “Where Your Path Crosses Mine” follows“The Golden Mend” series and invokes a similar painterly language; her marks flow across aluminum surfaces with a de Kooning-esque calligraphy—but these painterly spells transport us like the direct and deliberate marks created by the bullets.
The steel works are reflective and by extension instantly accessible—they reflect our image and the nature of our humanity, underscoring that our identities are permanently marked but always fluid, restructuring as a result of unknown events, like a vision of water. Accessibility in an oil painting is so often determined by the fiction it presents, and by definition, inward-facing abstraction offers a more difficult journey for the viewer. The oil paintings lack the sculptural immediacy of the shot work, and when a luscious, painted abstraction is pitted against the actual image of our world reflected in a shining, warped mirrored surface, it falls short. The steel pieces demonstrate the decisive and sure footing of Evangeline’s creative actions—the steel can be shot only so many times before the reflected image and finally the whole panel is lost—so each shot counts.
Because Margaret Evangeline traverses multiple artistic categories her work can seem meandering at times, but this searching is one of the most essential and natural characteristics of her work. This resistance to categorization provides a freedom for the artist. That freedom allows Evangeline to search and find the sweet spots within her river of unique ideas and associations.