IN the Under the Sea exhibition at the Millennium Gallery a vast drawing of a captive Orca, Away from the Pod, by Paul Evans covers the entire back wall.
It was a mammoth undertaking in more senses than one.
Evans produces a quote from Moby Dick to illustrate the enormity of the challenge he took on: “For all these reasons, then, any way you may look at it, you must needs conclude that the great Leviathan is that one creature in the world which must remain unpainted to the last. True, one portrait may hit the mark much nearer than another, but none can hit it with any very considerable degree of exactness. So there is no earthly way of finding out precisely what the whale really looks like. And the only mode in which you can derive even a tolerable idea of his living contour, is by going a whaling yourself; but by so doing, you run no small risk of being eternally stove and sunk by him. Wherefore, it seems to me you had best not be too fastidious in your curiosity touching this Leviathan.”
Evans concludes: “I feel there’s an element of heroic failure about what I am doing.”
The Sheffield artist was keen to be involved with the Under the Sea exhibition which aims to highlight the environmental dangers to the world’s oceanic resources.
Having in 2009 produced a piece called Leviathan, a life-sized sperm whale 10m x 4.5m, for a gallery in Gainsborough he chose an Orca as it represented the best way of fitting the space. “It says something about captivity in the way the fin is curved round to fit the space. The floppy fin suggests captivity and also alludes to pollution and the idea of it being contained within that area.
“I have been fascinated with whales since I set up a branch of Friends of the Earth at school and although Save the Whale became a symbol of which was lampooned we have got to the stage of addressing it again.”
Evans began by making a preliminary drawing. “It took a bit of time to get it right,” he says. “If I had done a painting it would have been in the tradition of a political mural but drawing has a relationship to sculpture and is a lot about ideas and not about colour. There’s something about drawing which is very direct, there’s an intimate relationshipb between the object and subject.”
Evans’ recent work has been directly connected with nature. With Arts Council funding he embarked on a series which began with Origin09 in 2009, a drawing project which included the Leviathan. Origin010 brought together drawing, painting, text and animation to address our complex relationship with nature, and to explore the question of what it means to be alive. Exhibited at Sheffield Hallam University, it included Cells, 12 abstract watercolour drawings and graphite paintings accompanied by haiku poems by Chris Jones.
Origin011 set up three interconnected web sites leading to works exploring the complex field of relationships connecting the human animal to the animal kingdom.
His plans for Origin012 are for an Iphone App. “It will connect with paintings which continue to be abstract but challenge you to make those connections without them appearing too arbitrary.”
He has been working with schoolchildren in Cardiff getting them to create animals of the future. “I like working with kids because their art begins as a social activity. they talk to each other about what they are doing. There’s a public engagement in the design of the animals,” he says.
In October Evans will be involved with scientists in a project for Manchester Musuem looking at parasites blown up to human size. “The form is beautiful but the effect is horrible,” he says with evident satisfaction. “I’m playing on the edge of revulsion and aesthetics, the kind of thing Francis Bacon was doing. All my work connects with the old-fashioned idea of the sublime. I think it’s about taking something familiar and showing a way to understand it better.”
Under the Sea continues in the Design Gallery of the Millennium Gallery until October 14.