In the Studio with Pam Evelyn. Words by James Ambrose

Are there any rituals or processes you follow religiously while in the studio?

The studio comes first, everything else is planned around painting. Painting is something I have to do every day. I used to be very messy, Francis Bacon’s “order amongst chaos” almost gave me a guilt-free affirmation to work in this way. However now I make time to contain the chaos within the studio, I clean everything out so that nothing but the canvases are in sight. This emphasis on looking is essential for me now, because really the action of painting is much less than the action of looking. When I am looking I can’t have any distractions.

When we first spoke, you said that inspiration for your work can come from anywhere. And that you do not work with any specific source material?  

Yes, I avoid boxing anything in – uncertainty is what makes me want to keep painting. I see the canvas as an unbiased field where things come and go, sometimes something will stick, but the dominant character is a feeling of constant possibilities. Being totally lost in the painting is a much more interesting and uncomfortable position than knowing my next move. Sometimes I will react to feelings of vulnerability by knowing or planning too much and, as a result, the paintings become stiff or wooden.

Pam Evelyn, 'Spectacle of a wreck' Installation view. Courtesy Peres Projects, Berlin. Photographed by: Matthias Kolb

You noted in our conversations that the lockdown in the UK actually empowered your practice and allowed you to continue to produce and evolve your work at your own pace?

Initially during the lockdown, finding motivation and focus was hard but I realised that I really needed that time with the paintings. I got a lot out of my system, much was destroyed or defaced, and through a daily process of reducing and then rebuilding, I began to familiarise myself with the temper and nature of my touch. Ultimately I found that I am very comfortable with my own company and working alone.

Living with the paintings so intimately meant that my work became not just a comment or side note of my life but this direct stain from the everyday, I was truly living through the works. It’s a closeness that you only gain from such extreme repetition or loneliness, a relationship that is impossible to maintain within a social city lifestyle. I think I always need those moments of quiet where time seems a bit more elastic.

I also built a studio wall in my garden on the south coast and worked outside quite extensively during lockdown. It was at times quite tough – the weather and temperature had additional effects on the works and also my moods while painting. It’s interesting, when you’re freezing cold and trying to focus or control a mark in a direction, your body is almost restricted, instead of resisting this, I allowed the nuance of the day to override my say and began to trust the paint over my own judgment.

Your most recent show Spectacle of a Wreck at Peres Projects in Berlin received wide acclaim, was there a specific concept for this show?

The concept for the show comes from a memory from my early years living in Scotland. It’s a vague echo of a form – a shipwreck in Ettrick Bay. A mighty punctum in such a vast stretch of land. This intangible episode from my life, of beholding this abandoned relic, pronounces itself again and again in the every day. There is beauty and grace in the castaway dark gritty corners of the land and I saw this as an invitation to look.

Do you have contemporary influences in painting or are the painters you most admire drawn from art history?

I feel there’s a real scramble of references and languages that co-exist within contemporary painting. Almost anything goes, and in some spaces you see painters entertaining pre-trodden ground where you think that field has been exhausted, however, there is a real hunger and motivation to take the conversation further and amongst contemporary painters this ambition is evident.

Pam Evelyn artist painting Peres Projects
Pam Evelyn, 'Spectacle of a wreck' Installation view. Courtesy Peres Projects, Berlin. Photographed by: Matthias Kolb

Is a sense of balance and colour harmony important to you in your paintings?

There is an ongoing accumulation of colour in my studio. I mix paint in tubs and pots, that over time can be forgotten or polluted with another pigment, creating found colours, which are usually more interesting to me than any deliberate choice. These arbitrary mistakes that are the residue of my studio habits tickle me – it’s as if I am drawn in like a magpie. For me, colour is indulgent. When I work outdoors, I am witness to the harmony and disharmony of nature, the sudden changes in mood throughout a day. Similarly, my paintings can go through stages of being polite and harmonious, however, I often enjoy a disturbance in palette. When a painting becomes slightly agreeable I usually feel a need to introduce perhaps a gritty, meaty tone to interfere with the complacent.

I know drawing is also important to you? Will you draw anywhere or do you have to be in a certain mood, place or time?

I draw all the time, even just doodles and scribbles. I have scribbled handwriting so even my notes I use as a form of drawing. It’s all a good way of warming up the hand and body, anything physical is useful for that. Recently I’ve been looking at Leon Kossoff’s drawings, they are just so relentless.

Are there specific tools and materials that you always work with?

I extend my brushes, so there is distance between myself and the canvas, also using mops, shovels, sponges... I become quite habitual with the brushes I use, clinging to them, so the extensions or unfamiliar tools can help broaden the scope of the mark and reveal something surprising.

I also have my own tricks and methods that I keep quite private, I love how the privacy of my studio enables a lot of trial and error that can go unseen, it’s all written in the paint.

Pam Evelyn artist painting Peres Projects
Pam Evelyn, 'Spectacle of a wreck' Installation view. Courtesy Peres Projects, Berlin. Photographed by: Matthias Kolb
How are your emotions when you know a piece is finished, do you ever have difficulty letting them leave the studio?

As soon as I’m finished with one, I’m ready for the next five paintings. I’m always looking for the next thing, it’s an addictive pursuit but also one that asks for time, my paintings live with me for months. So when they are done, I am more than ready to let go.

What are your upcoming plans for 2022?

Early next year I have my solo show (2/3/22) with the Approach London followed by a solo representation at the Independent Art Fair New York (5/5/22).

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Photos by Zach Zono