Evan RobArts : Mondrian 3.0
An essay by Frédéric Caillard, August 2018
Frédéric Caillard examines the ins and outs of Evan Robarts signature Scaffold works.
Towards the end of his career, Mondrian’s abstractions became more rigid and started to reference New York City’s architecture. 75 years later, Evan Robarts, who lives and works in the Big Apple, is probably interested in what happened to those magnificent buildings that inspired Mondrian. It is not their geometric silhouettes nor their grid layouts that must retain Evan Robarts’ attention, but rather their long route into decay, the efforts they need to be maintained – for example by scaffolding them up and refreshing their paint. This is why under Robarts, Mondrian’s lines turn into scaffold poles and platforms. The poles and platforms are not placed on a canvas, but in front of an actual wall. They delimit wall sections, which are – like in Mondrian’s canvases – painted or left blank, with a fuzzy or solid edge.
Evan Robarts, 927 Lincoln Road, 2018 / scaffold and wall painting / ~200 x 300 cm. Courtesy Evan Robarts.
The artistic idea is not a mere update of Mondrian’s practice, it is full of wit. Already long before his New York time, Mondrian drew his abstract compositions from real life elements, such as trees or building façades(1). With his scaffold works, Robarts retrieves Mondrian’s paintings from the abstract sphere and brings them back into three dimensional reality. It also transforms what is typically a painting tool (the scaffold) into a full-blown artistic media. The tool becomes embedded into the artwork, it dialogs with the underlying mural paint and provides a comprehensive visual package that encompasses both the making of the work and the finished work. The juxtaposition of the scaffold and the wall painting also questions the widely debated oppositions between artistic & commercial painting. The scaffolds can be seen as the overarching commercial forces that not only shape today’s art (by imposing the wall painting structure), but also stand between the art and the viewer, filtering the reception of the artworks. Another much discussed opposition -between handmade and industrial production – is addressed in the making of the Scaffold works. Robarts now and then applies the wall colors himself, but also happens to delegate the painting job, brilliantly blurring the line between the two production modes.
But one of the most important aspect of the Scaffold series is its social underlying. The used scaffolds, which bear impact marks and stains, obviously carry the history of renovated neighborhoods and of workers who sweated on them. When Robarts chooses to place his scaffold in front of a white gallery wall, he stages a confrontation of social classes: the working class vs. the upper class, the construction workers who built the luxurious high-rises that inspired Mondrian vs. their rich inhabitants who collect art. Can abstract art be disconnected from reality? Robarts answer is quite clear: there is no such thing as pure art. The people and their memory are here to haunt any attempt to put them aside. Even Mondrian’s iconic position cannot hold.
(1) It is interesting to note that one of the title of a 1914 Mondrian painting – as found in the French edition of the Phaïdon monography by John Milner – directly references scaffolds: Composition n°9 (échafaudage).
Main Illustration: Evan Robarts, Installation view of A bright cold day in April at Berthold Pott Gallery, Cologne, 2017. Courtesy Berthold Pott Gallery, Cologne, 2017. Photo Mareike Tocha.