Strolling along the eclectic storefronts of Melrose Avenue one balmy summer evening, I happened upon a curious exhibition that piqued my attention. The installation was the opposite of what one would expect in an art gallery, because the primary work in the show wasn’t on the walls—it was in the middle of the room. Behold, a sprawling wooden structure upon which was displayed a continuous 102-foot drawing that seemed to have no beginning or end. Dominated by a stark, black-and-white palette with isolated areas of color, it appeared to be a circular flowing animation densely packed with startling caricatures populating a fantastical landscape.
It turned out to be the work of LA-based artist/animator Evan York, and was titled The Connection of Everything. Composed of important events in his life, the ambitious project had preoccupied him for a full year. He created the exhibition specifically for an eponymous pop-up art gallery, which he designed and operated for three months over the summer.
York graciously took me on a tour of the work, which included an extensive explanation of the project that probably raised more questions than it answered.––Gregg Gibbs
Gregg Gibbs: Tell me about your 102-foot continuous drawing that took a full year to make. What was the inspiration?
Evan York: It’s actually made up of 113 panels that are 11 x 14 inches and all connected to each other to tell, hopefully, a coherent story. It’s all ink on paper mounted on wood, and is called The Connection of Everything because it connects my childhood to my present life as I have lived it. It helps me pull my life together, because I’ve drawn every single day since the mid-’90s. I work on about six panels at one time to create one piece, and although I’ve worked on long drawings before, this continued to grow and grow. Originally, I thought I was going to stop at 30 feet, but I still had more I wanted to express and kept going. Before I knew it, I had a 102-foot-long drawing. It was all done while having coffee at the Laurel Canyon Country Store.
Does the site-specific installation comprise one complete work? Is it your intention that the panels stay together, or can it ever be broken up?
My original idea was to keep it as one piece and just let it be that way, but in order to pay the rent as an artist, you do need to sell your work. Nobody is going to buy a 102-foot long drawing. So I decided to sell sections of the drawing, and where they make a hole, I fill in with another story that connects visually to the rest of the design based on what is going on with the changes in my life at the time. Most of my inspiration comes from my dreams and meditations. It’s my visual journal.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do, and the only way it held appeal was to make it a lifelong, evolving drawing. Hopefully, when I’m 80 years old, the whole piece will transform completely. Actually, I’m not sure what it will be. From past experience, once I make a piece of art and sell it, when I look at it later, I always think it could have been made better because I’ve developed better skills as an artist. With this, it can change and will evolve along with my life.
To exhibit the drawing, you didn’t go through the usual route of presenting it as a conventional exhibition with an established venue. What led you to create a pop-up gallery?
You can say the whole thing was inspired by my friend, Diva Zappa, whom I have coffee with every morning. She was knitting a hundred-foot scarf, and that inspired me to also make my piece a hundred feet long. At first, I couldn’t find a space that could handle the work. It had to be broken up by a wall or a door. I have a friend who decided to invest in a pop-up gallery, and we took a year to find the right space. Another friend helped to construct the support system. When he first came into the room, he said, “Let’s do it right down the middle.” Usually, when you go to an art opening, the art is on the walls and the viewers are in the middle. This is a fun way to view the drawing, because you walk around it. It’s completely connected. The first panel connects to the last panel.
Is there a narrative that has a beginning, middle and end? Does it have a proper order that completes the cycle, or can viewers establish their own order?
I like to tour people through the story, starting at the beginning panel, and take them through the whole story to the end, which is connected to the beginning with a panel featuring the infinity symbol. You can walk it backwards, but then it isn’t the story I necessarily want the viewer to experience.
Tell me about some of the elements of the story and how it relates to your life.
A lot of it is about my childhood. You’ll see a lot of trains that kind of look like roller coasters—that’s because, as a kid growing up in New York City, I’d run away and get on a subway train and ride it like a roller coaster. To me, it was a great way to escape, and I just loved trains. They gave me comfort. There are also a lot of wood motifs in the piece, which encompass everything including a pulley system that keeps the horizon consistent. That’s from my childhood obsession with wood. I included science theories in there and time travel. I’m obsessed with outer space, so there are little stars throughout. I also have a love for string theory—that everything is connected by a thread that holds all life together. This gives balance to my mind by contemplating all the planets out there in our solar system. I happen to be fascinated by the unknown, and it keeps me up at night.
Which leads me to wonder, what is the future for the 102-foot drawing? Are there other plans to show it?
I draw for a minimum of six hours a day, every day. I have no kids, no dogs, no house—basically I’ve tried to make a living as an artist. Whatever it is, if it’s animation or fine art, whatever you want to call it, I do that. The future is to go to the next destination where I can take it. I’ve been looking at a place in Chelsea in New York. I’ve had a little success in Japan with a T-shirt design business, so I’d love to take the piece to Tokyo, and there are possible plans for that. The best thing I can do is to continue to keep people’s eyes on it.
Evan York is an artist and animator based in Los Angeles.