In the Studio – Evan Isoline

We stopped in the studio to visit May artist, Evan Isoline. You may remember his triptych, Golgotha, from LOW in February of 2014.

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Duplex: Tell us about your upcoming solo show, UNCARNATE.
Evan Isoline: I plan the images in show to be about 50% male and 50% female. That is one thing that is interesting about using appropriated fashion images. That’s mainly what it is in mainstream media. There are other genders represented in certain areas, but my show will work toward an ambiguity.

D: You also have your thesis show opening the same night. How has it been for you while working with both ideas?
EI: It’s been intense! We are doing our run through for our orals, so I am also practicing that at the same time. It’s crazy. We also turned in our thesis papers.

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D: I love these painted exit signs, are they for your thesis show?
EI: Yeah, I have a four-part display for that show. For UNCARNATE at Duplex, there is this incarnate sense with some of the more skin like qualities. I am thinking of it as representations as skins themselves or shells. Something people inhabit. It’s a simulation that provokes simulation again. Giving the images new functions or routes, destinations. Basically exposing these ads as representations and bringing it into the context of art and abstraction. Leaving the trace elements of figurative qualities.

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D: Oh this is an original Nike ad. How did you acquire it?
EI: Portland Store Fixtures always gives me a ring when they get in large images. Sometimes I get large images online. Recently, I had a studio visit with a designer that works at Nike. He recognized the Nike ad immediately.

D: When you first told this designer about this project, did he have any reservations or question your intent?
EI: Yeah, definitely. He’s had a lot of cool jobs; he used to live in London and worked for Alexander McQueen so I think he has a general sense of what artists are doing, especially with store fixtures and stuff like this. When I first had this in my studio, it was inverted and there wasn’t anything else on it. It was literally just the original ad, just upside down. He responded really interestingly. I told him I was thinking about painting on it and he said, “for what it’s worth, it’s doing something really intense on its own upside down for me.”

D: A highly thought out and well-designed ad to just to be displayed sort of wrong. I wonder if that’s akin to hanging a flag upside down for a designer.
EI: I also had this inverted silver crucifix next to it, doing something similar. The religion of design.

D: As you are making each piece, you are taking these images that are so obviously about commercial consumption and even the ideal human, you are pretty much wiping about any evidence of that. I would have never known this was a Nike ad.
EI: It is not primary to know what the brand was. I’m trying to annihilate that part of the image. It sounds sort of brutal to say the word ‘annihilate’, but really it is leaving just the right amount of information of the human figure to read in a broader visual language. The thermal jacket she was wearing reads as Nike, albeit 5 or 10 years ago. The rest of the photograph was just sort of this negative space. The face is strange because it is sort of like portraiture, but it is also so vague. She was chosen, like many models, to look a certain way. It’s a simulation; a lot of people can jump into her skin. I am more interested in getting rid of that specific information. Showing the thing as it is, which is really something flat, an almost hollow shell.

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D: Is your interest in advertisements as a substrate more about the body or is it what the ad does to the body on a cultural level?
EI: I think it is both; I am highlighting the body as a site of commodification, but revealing these as representations and not real bodies with an economic impetus. Now, in my studio, these ads are not doing what they were supposed to, what they were designed to do. They are sort of obsolete in the traditional sense but now doing something completely different. They contradict their original use-value. They are images, but also objects. I had to carry the large Nike ad back from Portland Store Fixtures because I don’t have a car. I carried it on the train and just walking to the MAX, this thing was catching all kinds of wind. People were asking me what I was doing.

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D: Now it has this slight performative aspect.
EI: There is something like that. I have noticed over time as I bodily representations back and forth through public that people react. It’s sort of a mischievous thing. People ask me what I am doing and why. Even something as synthetic as a mannequin could have the semblance of a body. It’s weird how people react to the uncanny feeling. I think the same goes for sexual fetish or medical objects. It’s not a classical, unified body, it is one more defined by fragmentation and limitation.

D: I bet there is a visceral or emotional response that people may not even know they would have to see you carry a naked plastic body down the street. What do you usually say to them?
EI: Normally I tell them it’s for art. The store fixtures retailers in Portland are very hip too. There are plenty of artists who go through there; it’s sort of like a prop or materials store. There are so many display methods, forms and readymade sculptures. Display forms and mannequins are by no means a rare aesthetic; it is everywhere inside and outside of art. However, those kinds of objects still beg to be interfered with, especially when every block is chock full of store windows. I really respond to that. It’s a volumetric drawing. It’s like an image but it has space in it. When you see someone putting together a store display. That is always strange.

D: How often do you choose advertisements as substrates in your work?
EI: Most of the images I use are appropriated. I see the objects as appropriated as well. There is a lot of mediation and over-painting. Adding and taking away. I am finding or purchasing a certain amount of readymade information that I can work from. I am interested in a type of visual rhetoric that has an artificial consumer-culture quality.

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D: The way you take this imagery and parts of the mannequin and the exit signs, things that are familiar, it doesn’t seem like you are making a harsh criticism toward the brand of consumer culture.
EI: It’s not about the brand. In the most literally sense, I am using the ad as a canvas to make a painting. You can see the marks as agitation marks, so I guess I am playing with what could be seen as vandalism but also as an abstract painting.

D: Especially since the ad and the other objects were essentially discarded, any kind of rights of authority the brand might have had might not anymore when you offload it to a place like Portland Store Fixtures. These things don’t really belong to the brand any longer. Your color treatment really lends itself to that too. We can look at the culture of consumption as composition instead of a message about the idolization of beauty standards. I think that’s why I didn’t read your piece in the LOW show as ad appropriation.
EI: I think a good word is residual. I am leaving some residual elements of each image or object in a sense, but the more fashion driven elements. They have a benign glamorousness to them. I think with the images from fashion, I am trying to show that in the industries between art and glamour, beauty or advertising, I don’t see that big of difference. Not that it is a bad thing; it is such a part of society and there is a huge bleeding edge between the arts and celebrity. It’s interesting how much commercially successful artists are just celebrities like everyone else.

See more photos here.

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