Art of the Pop Portrait

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Modernism / the art of the pop portrait / 1984-1989  

The 70’s were a time of continual change, following as they did on the wreckage of the revolutionary 60’s.  The 1980’s on the other hand, became a giant pop culture party; one that didn’t slow down until it completely exhausted itself in a burst of alternative revisionism.  An explosive vibrancy in music, the arts, architecture, and interior design dominated the 80’s.  Movements like Graffiti, Neo-Geo, Neo-Pop, Punk, Nu Wave, No Wave, and Memphis reigned.  Publications like The Face, Wet, and Slash, all combined to destroy previous notions of color and design rules, opening the way for a new modernism.  Into this overheated environment, Jim Evans broke from his past to reinvent the pop portrait.  For a brief moment in time, he turned from all his former influences, and instead found inspiration in New York clubs like Area, Mars, CBGB’s, Limelight, and The Palladium.  Parties became the palette; the cult of the pop personality had begun.

From 1984 through 1989, Evans sought to exploit the raw allure of star quality, by intersecting with the culture instead of critiquing it.  He created a body of work that manipulated the near-transcendence of simple attractiveness.  The media manufactures the supernatural sexuality of celebrities, allowing the pop portrait to eroticize the image by using enlargement, cropped isolation, and excessively refined printing, enshrining it.

Often working with the stars themselves, or in some cases fulfilling a commission by Playboy, various record labels, or the film studios, Evans created portraits of celebrities as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Madonna, Stallone, Marlon Brando, and Lauren Bacall.  The portraits are illuminated with layer upon layer of patterns, freehand elaboration, non-referential collage elements, and other apparently random touches.  Evans’ approach to the pop portrait effectively enhances the seductive glory of the star, focusing solely on the star’s iconic “presence” – not on stage, not on screen, but in our minds.

Exploiting a uniquely singular period of creative exuberance from 1984-1989, Jim Evans embraced the mass-media canonization of celebrity as an experiment in artistic fetishization.  The series of pop portraits is a reflections of a civilization, dense with information and hungry for focus.  “These images,” says Evans, “are manifestos for the over stimulated.”