In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Ansel Adams at 100 | Main | Free Views -- Business Card Art »

February 10, 2003

Pix of the Day -- Donald Evans

Friedrich --

Have you ever run across the art of Donald Evans? Of artists from the last 30 or 40 years, he's one of my faves. He painted stamps -- that was his art form. Thousands of them, watercolor on tiny little squares, triangles, and rectangles. Sometimes entire sheets of stamps. The painting itself, as I hope is visible from the scans I've included in this posting, is charming. But the painting per se is only half of what makes Evans' art so lovable.

The other half is that these were stamps for countries he dreamed up. So the art wasn't just in the design/drawing/painting, it was also in the world behind the stamps (as well as in the idea of using stamps-from-imaginary-countries in the first place). An example: stamps from Mangiare ("Lo Stato di Mangiare"), where the government named the country's geographical features after items on restaurant menus from Florence: a hill town called Side Dish ("Contorno"), a countryside named after a sausage ("Mortadella"). (The images below are popups. Be sure to click on them.)

Messages from the land of "Amis et Amants" -- "friends and lovers"

A bit of biography: Evans was born in 1945, the dreamy only child of a middle-class New Jersey couple. He had an idyllic childhood, during which he was introduced to stamps and stamp collecting at the age of 6 by a neighbor. He took to them instantly -- they seemed to him little portals to the world at large as well as to his own imagination. He collected stamps, and soon started designing and making his own. He outgrew the passion in adolescence, and went to Cornell to study architecture. He had a vague feeling he wanted to be an artist, though, and he painted (big Ab-Ex paintings!) and learned about various crafts -- fabric and collage, for example. But he also knew he'd have to make a living, and did well at his architecture studies.

In the early '60s, he moved to NYC and got a job in an architect's office as a renderer. Evenings, he explored the art world, collecting modestly, getting to know real artists (Marisol, Robert Indiana), and painting sets for small dance and theater troupes. He began to show some of the stamps he'd painted as a kid to friends. They liked 'em. He painted a few more. He was feeling ... Well, something had to happen. And what finally did happen was that a friend invited him to Holland. Evans, who always lived frugally, saved a little more money, packed up and went.

There, while staying with a group of friends, he found his metier. He loved the quaint and miniature quality of Holland's countryside. He started selling a few of the stamps, then a few more. He practiced old-looking handwriting, and he used X-acto knives to erasers; inked, he could use them to mimic the postmarked look of a postcard that had been through the mail. Careerwise, nothing ever broke or burst for him on a huge scale, but he was soon able to get by on what he did sell. He always worked simply, meticulously and methodically, keeping detailed records in a large album of all the stamps he'd made; he came to regard the book itself as a work of art, entitling it the Catalog of the World. He traveled a lot, often staying with friends, and died in a fire in a windmill in Holland in 1977 at the age of 31.

His work can suggest Saul Steinberg ora book by Nick ("Griffin & Sabine") Bantock. But in feeling Evans' stamps are something else. Steinberg is quirky, cosmopolitan, all about exile and absurdity; Bantock is romantic and hallucinatory. Evans' pieces are sweetly lyrical; they're exquisite but informal, like an inspired amateur's gifts to beloved friends.

No burly macho-man, duking-it-out-with-the-greats theatrics here; no smartypants, gaming-the-system nihilism either. His work seems amazingly free of careerism and ego nonsense; he seems instead simply to paint what he loves, transforming it imaginatively but always working very directly. The result is make-believe and whimsy, but something more than that too; when you look at a number of his stamps, it's like reading a children's novel, but for adults. Your senses and your eyes get a good tickling, but your mind's eye -- mine, anyway -- also flickers to Trinitron-active life, bringing in news and visions from all over (and not just the real world). It's all very open-ended, poetic and suggestive.

Looking at Evans' stamps, I enter a dream state, full of mischief and sweetness, where everything is experienced mythologically, but not in any sinister or intellectualized way. It's something like what I experience when I read Manuel Puig or watch early Truffaut -- a blissful, charmed state, half-conscious and half-unconscious, a state of happy yet active well-being. I find it pleasing too that his work seems so informal. It's complete, but going through it feels more like going through an artist's sketchbooks than looking at finished work. It feels like reading someone's letters, or a diary. It's like email -- or a blog -- of an especially personal and poetic sort.

Is Evans a minor artist? He's certainly viewed as such; even back in the '70s, when he was at his best-known, I wasn't aware of his work. Yet what do I care about such judgments? For me he's a major pleasure. I love his work's gift-to-a-friend quality, and I like its fairy-tale-for-grownups quality too.

A description of one more example of his work. He liked dominos -- the game, partly, but also the way the pieces look and sound -- and he owned a set of antique dominos. So he invented a country, called it Domino, and set about making stamps for it. In the words of Willy Eisenhart, "When he had painted a series of twelve stamps, complete with rivets and cracks like those of his own antique ivory and ebony set, he began to think about playing a game with them. He positioned them around the edges of an envelope, matching the ends as they would be in an actual game. In the remaining empty space he put a French express sticker, upside-down to make it more abstract and harder to read, as an anchor to the composition. Then he canceled the stamps with the postmark he had carved for the Republic of Domino's post office in the capital of Boisivores (Ivorywoods in French). Donald Evans often addressed Domino envoopes to his friends, and for their birthdays he put together their ages in the country's stamps."

The facts above, as well as the images I've scanned, all come from Willy Eisenhart's book The World of Donald Evans, which is pretty terrific. Here's another passage I can't resist quoting: "On little paper rectangles he painted precise transcriptions of his life. He commemorated everything that was special to him, disguised in a code of stamps from his own imaginary countries -- each detailed with its own history, geography, climate, currency and customs -- all of it representative of rhe real world but, like real stamps, apart from it in calm tranquillity." Now that's art writing!

You can buy the book, which I recommend enthusiastically, here.

There's a sampling of Evans' work, reproduced not very helpfully, at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery's website, here.



posted by Michael at February 10, 2003


Wow. That really is charming; what a delightfully fertile imagination this man must have had.
It strikes me that so much that is lovely & ethereal in art; that manages to be visually, emotionally & even intellectually appealing, embracing even, is neglected by art criticism or considered to be 'minor'. It's too bad. Thanks for bringing Evans to our attention.

Posted by: Gia on February 16, 2003 6:26 PM

The World of Donald Evans is one of my most treasured possessions. Thanks for posting this. :)

Elmer Elevator has a great site on Evans...

Posted by: steven on February 20, 2003 4:45 PM

It has been almost eight years since my brother Will took his life in Little Italy in New York, but your kind comments on his book about Donald Evans are greatly appreciated. While I never had the opportunity to meet Donald; through my late brother, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of those idols, including Marisol and Bob Indiana, as well as all the usual Nevelson, Jasper Johns, Cletus Johnson, and John Duff.

Posted by: christopher eisenhart on February 24, 2003 11:30 PM

Wonderful to see these images and read your shared thoughts. I'd just been reading Bruce Chatwin's "What Am I Doing Here?", which includes an essay on Donald Evans and his work hitherto unknown to me. Your site put the pieces together. I must find more on this quietly wonderful artist.
Thanks so much, Jeffery

Posted by: Jeffery on April 20, 2003 7:33 PM

thank you soooo much for reintroducing donald evans to the world... for the longest time, the only physical copy of will's book i knew of was placed on the same shelf as the DIY macrame and the 1950s sewing encyclopedia down in the basement of the scholes library at alfred univ...and no one else had heard of him. after years of dead-end online searches, on a whim i googled again and was elated to see your touching treatment of such a talented artist. THANK YOU... again and again.

Posted by: Joanna on September 24, 2003 1:32 AM

Ah.. Donald Evans, whose obsession I borrowed. I was nourished by his vision for years. On that scale, all things seemed possible. Thank you for surfacing his work. I dug out Willy's book and my old number two Grumbacher. I'll be at it again. So grateful.

Posted by: Lekshe on January 25, 2004 1:38 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?