Connecting the Dots: An Interview with Jillian Evelyn
“I am constantly in limbo,” Jillian Evelyn tells me on a summer day from her studio in Los Angeles, a relatable frame of mind for the times we live in. I have always considered Evelyn’s work to possess directness, as well as providing room to breathe. Her often partially clothed women champion a sort of prideful ownership of self but also a universality that radiates a sense of independence with which we all can identify. Her new exhibition, Connecting the Dots, on view at Hashimoto Contemporary LA on November 22, links a connection to her past work, but the changes are palpable. In lieu of social media censorship and a little nod to John Baldessari, Evelyn has created a body of work that poses questions about what we can and cannot see.
Evan Pricco: Let's start with the title, Connecting the Dots. Do you normally have a title this early when you are prepping for a show?
Jillian Evelyn: I usually wait towards the end of working on a body of work to determine the title. The work usually evolves and changes through the process and then I find the thread that’s connecting them all.
What does that title mean? I know you’ve cited censorship before, this idea that social media sort of makes you put "dots" over nipples and nudity, but there is also a sense that you are connecting the dots of your career thus far. Is there a double-entendre here?
I’ve always found the censorship of nudity so bizarre considering we all have bodies. The title does have multiple meanings. One is to ask the viewer the question of why this one shape on the female form is forbidden when it's just the natural shape that we have attached all this meaning to. The other is a challenge for myself and my career: will female figures always be my main focus? I'm able to find meaning and inspiration outside of my experience as a female.
Thinking about a piece that you created this year, Hot Forever, I thought to myself, damn, Jillian is onto something here. It felt like a culmination of all the things we have spoken about over the last few years. Talk to me about that work.
Hot Forever is a little tongue and cheek. The topless female is walking confidently against this hot red and orange palette that symbolizes the world burning amidst global warming. The need for change is urgent, yet here we are still existing in a world desiring the “hot girl.”
I love that dichotomy. When I talk about Hot Forever, I also noticed this sort of change in the work. Not that you couldn't see the face, but the lines felt like the most confident you have ever had. Very rarely do you take the face out of the picture. Does the new show feature some of those details?
I have been giving myself more time to create the pieces and to slow down while I work. When I was first starting out, I didn’t have that luxury. I took on multiple shows a year and had to pump out pieces to make ends meet. I hope that the new show will reflect this new effort in balance.
Can we talk about censorship a bit? Does that change anything in your practice, knowing that there are censors in our social media life you might have to adhere to?
Surprisingly, I’ve never been censored on social media. I think it's because I usually use dots as the nipples. It's this one decision that I made for design reasons and it has been weird to watch fellow artists be flagged or censored, not simplifying what it is. But It is the main reason why I don’t do murals anymore.
So, with that in mind, how does Connecting the Dots tackle this?
I’m hoping people see the areola for what it is, something that exists in nature, a shape that doesn’t need to be considered taboo.
You were saying that you were going to introduce some new imagery into this show, not just women. How do you think that will change your approach or your perspective in general?
I’m hoping it brings more joy and a challenge to my practice. I’ve been painting women for a while now. I’m looking forward to exploring other imagery and seeing what comes out of it. I think it's important to evolve and grow beyond comforts. It could go terribly wrong, but I’m hoping I at least learn something from it.
You play around with objects a lot, too, like the ceramic editions you’ve made of your work, some very unique bowls, and vases! What is your dream edition? What would you like to make that you haven't been able to do yet?
I would love to make a large-scale sculpture. Being able to stand next to a sculpture that is the size or bigger than you evokes an entirely different emotion than a piece you can put on a shelf.
I always like to ask you this because I know you’ll have a good answer or two, but what artists are you influenced by right now?
This show, in particular, is inspired by John Baldessari’s Dot series, but where he was covering faces with stickers to draw attention to what else is happening in the photo. I’m looking to draw attention to the dots in different forms.
The other day I saw the famous quote from Baldessari that said "I go back and forth between wanting to be abundantly simple and maddeningly complex." His work was so good in that way. I would assume most artists sort of play with this, to be immediately simple and just have so many interesting complex angles to decipher. What do you think of this with your work?
What a great quote and very relatable. I am constantly in limbo, but I’m not sure if that comes through in my work as much as it happens in my head. I will always feel like things need to be more, say more, and I’m constantly pushing myself to remember that, most times, less is more.
It's 2022, and you just moved into a new house, so it’s been a tough few years. How is Jillian Evelyn feeling creatively these days? How are you preparing yourself for the future?
I’m honestly trying to take it one day at a time. Looking to the future feels like a black hole. I just know I need to draw and paint to stay sane. The longer I go without picking up a pencil, the further I feel from myself. I’m usually the best version of myself when I’m making room to be creative.
What's the longest you have gone without picking up a pencil in the last ten years?
When I first moved to Los Angeles almost eight years ago, I didn’t draw for myself for an entire year. Prior to moving, I was drawing in this very whimsical cute style and then decided that I would just put myself fully into my footwear career. Then I had a lot of loss in my life and started drawing again as a way of coping. That really changed what I was drawing and eventually evolved my style to what it is now.
How much of you are in these paintings?
I use myself for reference often since some pieces start from a place with issues that I’m experiencing in my own body. I do think that the exaggerated limbs come from me overcompensating for the length my body lacks. I’m also trying to work with other body types and explore different shapes, but I think there will always be a little bit of me in every piece. It's sort of unavoidable, I always found it interesting how artists always end up making pieces unintentionally look like themselves or their partner.
Connecting the Dots opens at Hashimoto Contemporary Los Angeles on November 12, 2022.