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Samuel Evensen: In the High Noon of the Heavenly Garden

Writ and Vision is pleased to present In the high noon of the heavenly garden, an installation of new works by New York-based artist Samuel Evensen. The exhibition consists of an immersive, floor-to-ceiling frieze of the Eden narrative in Genesis drawn in oil pastel on paper and covering the entire wall space of the gallery—one continuous drawing 8 x 54 feet and another 9 x 20 feet. Hung directly on top of this expansive frieze is a series of small nudes painted in oil from observation. This juxtaposition reflects on the force of the Eden mythology and how that mythology frames cultural and personal conceptions of the body.

Inspired by an operatic, Gesamtkunstwerk aesthetic, the frieze is enveloping and depicts chronological scenes from the Genesis narrative along with excerpts of poetry inspired by Genesis from Lucille Clifton, Emily Dickinson, Samuel Menashe, and others. The visual language is vibrant, chromatic, maximalist, and highly sensorial. Yet, unlike traditional depictions of Eden as an exotic, fantastical world, Evensen’s Eden is altogether agrarian—a landscape of mud, grass, and growing trees and inhabited by draught cattle and other animals frequently found in agrarian environments. Deity is represented by both male and female bodies that are, in every case, laboring, grounded, meek—literally gardeners, a reflection on how the Hebrews in the fifth century BCE likely conceived the original text. These drawings are at once overwhelming in sensory experience and earthy, low, and common in their imagery. We find allusions to historical artworks like Caillebotte’s The Floor Scrapers, Giacometti’s Walking Man, and Courbet’s The Stone Breakers—works that treat the body, especially the laborer, as both heroic and common.

Evensen’s frieze also represents an unusual portrayal of the Genesis text as a myth about development and maturation. Adam is created as a newborn, and he and Eve grow as the narrative advances. Though the original Genesis text depicts a singular moment of epiphany as Eve, then Adam, eat the fruit, Evensen stretches out this moment of maturation, underscoring development as progressive and evolutionary. In the text the initial creative acts are a sequence of divisions. Evensen runs this concept through the entire narrative: the deities divide the earth in preparation for planting, Adam is divided out from the ground, Eve is divided out from Adam, Eve divides the fruit of the tree of knowledge in consuming it, Adam and Eve are divided out from the garden. As the narrative continues, the contours that represent Adam and Eve and their environment become increasingly divided, compounded, complex, chaotic. The original division of the deities tilling the earth catalyzes a process of gradual development as the visual images evolve and multiply, until in the end Adam and Eve and their environment are dynamic, complex, matured, and mysterious, like the deities that forged them.

Evensen has hung a constellation of small paintings of the nude body throughout the oil pastel frieze. While the Eden frieze is drawn entirely from imagination, these oil-on-canvas works depict contemporary bodies painted from observation. Their installation within the Adam and Eve narrative speaks to the saturation of this mythology in western culture and asks the viewer to consider how it frames, contextualizes, and sometimes even defines the way we view our bodies. There is diversity among these nude figures, all naturally posed and under fairly flat, frontal lighting. They invite the viewer to examine issues of gender, body image, body modesty, procreation and fertility, sexuality, physical development, and the representation of the body within the context of the Eden myth. While the exhibition title, In the high noon of the heavenly garden—a line of poetry from Marjorie Pickthall—hints at the stakes in the Genesis narrative as Adam and Eve progress toward expulsion, it also speaks more compellingly to our contemporary exposure to and shaping by this enduring narrative.

Samuel Evensen received his BFA from Brigham Young University and MFA from the New York Academy of Art. His work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in New York; New Jersey; Philadelphia; Indiana; and Beijing, China. This is his first solo exhibition with Writ and Vision. Evensen lives and works in Manhattan.

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