HALL oscillates between flatness and linear perspective in paintings
that merge still-life and geometric abstraction with photographic
sources, sometimes combining them all in a single piece. Skulls made from semi-precious stones, snakes, candles, flowers, shells, moons and patterned wallpaper
all make repeated appearances, referencing Dutch and Spanish Vanitas
painting and revealing the intersection of the personal and the art
historical. Everest earned his B.F.A. in 1996 from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
and his M.F.A. in 1998 from Yale University School of Art. His numerous solo exhibitions include shows at Bellwether Gallery (2006) in New York, Richard Gray Gallery (2010) in Chicago and Dunham Place Salon (2010) in New York. From September 26, 2015 to January 10, 2016, his work will be included in Prime Matter, a drawing show at the Teckningmuseet in Lahom Sweden. Everest lives and works in New York City.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Earlier paintings, such as Untitled (Crystal Skull) (2006), resemble traditional Memento Mori or Vanitas paintings. But more recently, the perspective and the space in paintings with these repeated visual motifs has changed. How does the flattened space relate to themes of mortality and death?
Everest Hall: Subject
matter is very important to me, but style and technique are only a means
to an end. I choose objects like coins, crystal skulls, shells and
candles that have both art historic and personal symbolism. For example,
the crystal skull is important to me because it belongs to my mother.
She is Mayan Indian, born in Central America and a well-respected
healer. When I paint the crystal skull, I am connecting to my family
heritage—with all its loaded meanings—and to the history of painting,
especially Dutch and Spanish Vanitas paintings.
The shift towards a more flattened space with bigger color as in the painting Tides (2011) happened fairly organically through experimentation and allowing the painting to take its own path. I don't think it has anything more or less to do with death and mortality than the silk drapery used in the earlier pieces. Both styles of painting serve the same purpose in the world I am building: to fill space, create an atmosphere and distract from the focal point. Because I am rendering less in the newer works, I needed to push the flatness to create an reality equivalent to the classical perspective.
OPP: Will you pick a painting and reveal the personal narrative to us?
EH: The painting Untitled (fly) from 2006 is a good example. It was early spring in New York, and I was living in a small apartment in Washington Heights. My studio was in a tiny bedroom with a window that overlooked the building’s garbage. A small house fly flew up from the dumpster below and got caught in my studio. Without much thought I smashed the young fly dead. At the time I felt really bad because killing it seemed cruel and unnecessary. It was not very difficult for me to relate to the fly with its fragility and primitive nature. I felt like a little bug at the time, trying to scrape out an existence with powerful uncaring forces swatting me around. So I built a tomb for it out of paint taking great care to articulate its husk of body and lack of vitality. The fly is accompanied by other corpses that I had collected during my morning walks with my dog: an interesting leaf blown down by the wind from a high branch, a snail shell from the park and a discarded scallop shell from an intimate dinner. Like the fly, these husks seemed so noble and elemental. The sea, the earth and the air all gathered together to bear witness to the smallest of deaths.
OPP: Several works from 2010—Lake of Dreams, Ocean of Storms, Sun and Sea of Nectar, to name just a few— are oil paintings of the backs of canvases with overlaid, geometrical gestures. You've also addressed the canvas back in mixed media works from 2011 like Bouquet and Roses. What led you to this work?
EH: I came to these paintings in a curious way. One day I caught my self staring at a painting for a very long time. It was so long, in fact, I lost my footing in the world and could no longer see the painting at all. I only saw the daydream that my mind had led me to. The force of my stare dissolved the painting’s surface, the stretcher bars, the wall behind it and the very structure of the object into nothing. These back of the canvas paintings are physical manifestations of this experience: meditative force and cubist space captured in a trompe l'oeil. Many of these back of the canvas paintings were intended to be show with images of the moon and flowers. I saw the voids described by the gestural marks and geometry as equivalent to what might be on the front of the canvas.
OPP: Could you talk about your shift away from using found photos as source material for your paintings as a result of Jerry Saltz's 2004 essay "The Richter Resolution?" Looking back now, what are your thoughts on this essay and how it influenced your practice?
EH: This is a big story for me, a turning point in my career. I was a young impressionable artist at the time and wanted desperately to be someone. I worked very hard to impress my young Brooklyn gallery and hoped to carve out a name for myself. I was doing well for a while. . . until "The Richter Resolution" came out. My dealer at the time told me the article was about me, and my career was in big trouble and I should fix it fast. I dumped the photos and dove head first into the most uncool genre I could imagine—still life. I dug deep and really owned it and made many great paintings. Eleven years later, I still work in still life more or less. . . photos are at play, but so is everything now. Thinking back, it was a good change, but I was very damaged by my dealer’s interest in the bottom line.
OPP: I think that
experience would be challenging for most artists. How do you go about
balancing that bottom line with your artistic development now?
EV: The answer is easy. . . I got a day job and rely on that money instead of art sales to live. Because I am self-sufficient outside of the art market, I really don't care what people think anymore about what I do or how I do it. I make paintings that I want to see, not what a gallery, critic or collector is expecting or wanting. This is a much better way of living for me, and the work has really benefited from this attitude. I exhibit fairly regularly and really enjoy people seeing what I make.
OPP: And now a practical website question: could you talk about your choice to mix up all your works on your website as opposed to putting them in chronological order? It seems like an intentional choice that most artists don't make on their websites. Is this a conceptual choice?
EH: Well.... I get mixed reviews about my the jumbled format.
Some people really hate it; some people like it. But I’m not really
interested in the site being an archive of my development or a tool for
business. It’s more of a memoir. I play with it a lot, changing formats,
adding works and removing them and juxtaposing images to highlight the
similarities and differences. I add to the conversation by offering
personal anecdotes and information on individual works.
All of the looking back and rearranging has renewed my interest in some of my older ideas. Now I find myself mixing photography and abstraction with still lives. Nothing is off limits now. I just experiment with seeing what is possible. I have a new section in the website called Studio where I have recent images of in-progress works. I'm a bit of a slow painter, so this section is a good way of showing new work, even when I know I won’t complete it for a few months or possibly even years.
To see more of Everest's work, please visit everesthall.com.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.