Familiarity breeds... Sheep theme woven into Evans' work

Sheep are to John Borden Evans’ paintings as retirees are to Florida. As a (somewhat specious) explanation of their near-ubiquity, Evans points out that 25 years ago he worked on a sheep farm in New Zealand with a whole lot of sheep. Now he lives near a small farm in North Garden, where there are considerably fewer sheep, but still, sheep they are. In other words, he paints sheep because he’s seen plenty (?).
The animal doesn’t seem to have engendered the same romantic attachment in many other people, but perhaps someone who has spent significant time in the company of sheep can speak to this issue.
It might very well have been that Evans simply needed a subject.  Once you get past the initial surprise at seeing so many acrylic sheep, it becomes very clear that Evans’ paintings do not begin and end with the meatball-round animals and their knowing stares. The painter shows a great of interest in technique and in slightly unnatural color schemes; this tendency manifests in big, thick, layered and scraped slabs, and small patches and lines of intense color pitted against blacks, blues, and dark greens.
As Evans has long since discovered, large, rounded animals of a sheep-like variety work particularly well in this context, as do deer and cows– lesser players, sure, but they also turn up in his paintings on occasion.
The modest “Little Blue Sheep” certainly shows off the subtle dissonance Evans cultivates between the image and the technique. If not for the sheep’s head tucked neatly in the bottom left corner of the frame, the painting might be completely abstract– an expanse of blue covered in hairline white scratches. At the top left corner, a triangle of green.
It’s these painterly touches that generate much of the verve of Evans’ work, but it’s really his quiet, often nocturnal dreamscape imagery which makes his paintings notable and easy to like. Derivative elements pop up here and there–most notably the deliriously swirly stars in his Van Gogh-like night skies– but they seldom detract from paintings.

John Borden Evan’s retrospective exhibit runs through December 4 at the Earl V. Dickenson building at Piedmont Community College. 501 College Drive. 961-5376. More of Evans’ work is on display at Les Yeux du Monde @ dot 2 dot. 115 First St. 973-5566.