The following essay was written by Eric Denker, Curator of Prints and Drawings, Corcoran Gallery of Art for Evan Summer’s solo exhibition at the Corcoran, October 1999 to January 2000.
Landscapes and Nocturnes
by Eric Denker
Evan Summer has created an impressive volume of work that is dominated by nocturnal landscapes of austere power. His prints offer remarkable visual testimony to the conflict between the elements of nature and of human creation. Though seemingly unpopulated, they are permeated by evidence of man’s presence, represented by monumental structures in various states of decay.The ominous quality of the images results from the artist’s treatment of the terrain, of the deteriorating condition of man-made forms, and of the temporal and atmospheric conditions represented.Dark skies create dramatic passages and silhouettes in the features of the grim landscape below, relieved in some prints by streaks of rain or lightening skies that might suggest catharsis or renewal.
Summer most often concentrates on landscape imagery, although he occasionally treats other subjects. Sometimes he renders pure landscape, with no hint of human history. More often, he incorporates immense architectural forms or geometric shapes, their fabric in disarray or in varying states of decline. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, Summer was attracted to the impressive hydroelectric and power plants that dominate the landscape around Niagara Falls. Though inspired by these specific forms, in his imagery the artist never defines the original nature or function of his constructions, only evoking some long-forgotten need for their presence. Sometimes the history of these spaces is suggested, but much more remains a mystery — the specific content lost in the silent landscape.
These foreboding images fall into discrete categories. Some represent abandoned or decaying structures; in others, large forms appear strewn arbitrarily about, as if the dynamic terrain had shifted, producing a jumble of geometric elements. A few settings suggest sites of archaeological excavation. The idea of equilibrium is paramount, for there is a stasis in which the opposing forces of nature and man have canceled one another. As a group these landscapes and nocturnes manifest a dark fantasy, a melancholy reminiscence of a forbidding future.
Most of Summer’s prints are executed in the traditional technique of etching on copper plates, often with supplemental engraving and drypoint. In some instances aquatint, the tonal process associated with etching, is used to create broad, rich areas of gray and black. A single plate may be etched fifteen to twenty times, and may take more than a year to complete. Summer works the copper entirely by hand, and hand prints the plates on a variety of fine papers. He works outside the contemporary workshop milieu, without assisting technicians or elaborate equipment.
Summer also works in collagraphy and collage. Collagraphy is a modern intaglio process involving the attaching of textural materials to a supporting plate or board to create a surface that can be inked and printed with pressure onto a sheet of paper. Summer’s interest in collagraphy has led him to create large-scale collages that engage the same landscape subjects as many of his intaglio images, but allow him to use color in ways quite different from the prints. A love of drawing and an interest in perspective are manifest in all of his work. At times, the purity and beauty of the geometry itself become the subject.