Painting Backwards: Evan Nesbit at Roberts & Tilton

Painters and paint-lovers should flock to Evan Nesbit’s (NAP #99) current show /ˈkaɪˑæzəm/. Entering Roberts & Tilton, visitors are met by a group of large and brightly colored burlap canvases. The combination of acrylic paints and dye on brown burlap and of Nesbit’s painting on the opposite side of the burlap than the one facing outward has a contradictory effect on the colors: they are muted bolds and conversely, they are bright pastels.

The very act of painting backwards, though, is what interested me most—visually, aesthetically, physically, and quite psychically. – Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor


Evan Nesbit
| /ˈkaɪˑæzəm/ Installation View. Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton.


Evan Nesbit
| Porosity (Bay Leaves and Sandalwood II), 2014, Acrylic and dye on burlap, 79 x 68 in. Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton.

Visually, his paintings look like complex tie-dye from afar. The way in which Nesbit has composed opposite and complimentary colors amidst his backward paintings creates movement. They have a mesmerizing effect as if they have captured and stretched musicality and momentum onto the stretched burlap canvas. This is easy to sense when you squint at the works ever so slightly, or when you simply try to capture it on a phone. The colors seem dizzying and wobbly, when they aren’t actually in person.


Evan Nesbit
| Porosity (Bay Leaves and Sandalwood II) - detail 1. Courtesy of Ellen C. Caldwell.


Evan Nesbit
| Porosity (Bay Leaves and Sandalwood II) – detail 2. Courtesy of Ellen C. Caldwell.

Aesthetically, his works stand alone overall, but are exemplified in the details. Process-wise, Nesbit paints on panels which he pieces together. These create fabulous moments where irregular burlap seams meet both messy and meticulous globs of paint. This irregularity is key and it is something that I think I crave more and more, in a high-paced and technical world where perfection is more and more easily programmed and planned.

Physically, Nesbit does something quite interesting in the way he plays with paint as is protrudes through and soaks into the burlap. At times, the paint comes out into the viewer’s space physically and forms a sculptural layer on the surface. It is three-dimensional and enticing, the closer one gets to the wall.


Evan Nesbit | Porosity (Bay Leaves and Sandalwood Study), 2014, Acrylic on burlap, 44 x 36 in. Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton.


Evan Nesbit
| Porosity (Bay Leaves and Sandalwood Study) - detail 1. Courtesy of Ellen C. Caldwell.


Evan Nesbit
| Porosity (Bay Leaves and Sandalwood Study) - detail 2. Courtesy of Ellen C. Caldwell.

Psychically, Nesbit creates a glowing exhibit that makes me wonder and contemplate how he was able to plan out the finished and final look, all while painting on the opposite side of the burlap. In this sense, we are seeing the backside of his paintings, but it is the backside he planned, predicted, and manipulated for us to see. It made me want to know more about his artistic process and planning, and it also made me want to see the other side – all of which made me consider and reconsider the artistic processes in general.  

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Evan Nesbit’s show /ˈkaɪˑæzəm/ runs at Roberts & Tilton through April 19th. Nesbit (b.1985) received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from San Francisco Art Institute, and his Masters of Fine Arts from Yale University, 2012. Nesbit has been awarded the Yale University Ely Harwood Schless Memorial Fund Prize for painting. He lives and works in Nevada City, California.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.

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