"My great grandmother, for whom I was named, was an early Arizona artist, coming here in 1911 after living the first half of her life in Ohio, Chicago and Europe. Since I was her namesake, she declared me an artist, and put a brush in my hand when I was barely old enough to hold it. Growing up near her in the desert, I learned to see nature as art and to paint directly from life. After college, my husband and I lived in New York City, and then upstate New York for twenty years, before returning to the southwest ten years ago.


 "I have always painted from life. Nature is alive and always changing. The drama of sky, earth, wind, smell, sound and total reality is so original that its immediacy forces me into unexpected discovery. I tie large, six by eight foot canvases to the side of my van, or an object like a tree trunk, or lay them flat on the ground. I am drawn to certain scenes, but then let nature take over. There are so many variations -- seasons, times of day, weather -- that a scene can be different every day. I am passionately attracted to nature and want to feel and see whatever I paint. I also like to paint people, because I am curious about personalities. Most faces twist and turn like landscapes and change like the sky.


 "I never use photographs for painting, although I love to look at them and respect photography as an art form. They don't work for me in art -- they seem static. It is like looking at a photograph of the Grand Canyon versus actually being there. Which would enliven your senses more? To which would you respond more directly? At the edge of the Grand Canyon, there is nuance and discovery.


 "Since clouds are changing faster than I can lay them down on canvas, I paint their shapes over a period of time and arrange them intuitively. One distraction is that each formation seems better than the next, so that I am constantly revising as I paint. Later, indoors, I may refine an area, but I always compose and lay in the painting from life. Painting outside in the elements, I have painted when it was 100 degrees (with umbrella), freezing (paint can form crystals) and in wind, rain and snow, bitten by bugs, and whatever nature has had to offer.


 "I love light and color. There is an energy in the forms and rhythms of earth and sky. I am entranced by clouds' twisting, turbulent, voluminous forms, and their moving changeability. Their edges evaporate in swirling vapor trails, which look like charges of electricity. They are filled with light, darkness, or both.


 "The sky changes constantly, filled with dark, light, sun, sunrays, moon and stars, sunrise, sunset. Earth and sky rhythms repeat. All nature has what we would call abstract forms. Artists select, add, omit, exaggerate, distort through their personality so that the subject is abstracted once more. For me, personally, the manipulation of pure geometric shapes becomes an intellectual exercise. Objects in nature have subtle or pronounced variations, like fingerprints and snowflakes. Nature points to individuality, to variations in overall patterns. I am also manipulating geometric shapes when painting a flat horizon line, a round sun, cloud forms, but somehow, by responding directly to nature, I am pulled into a fusion with a world always unique.


 "Painting for me is a reacting, feeling situation, where I feel an interaction between myself and the object, a circular flow of energy. I feel most alive when I paint. All of my senses respond and I feel pulled into something larger."

Artist Statement • Jessie Benton Evans Art

© Jessie Benton Evans - Don Gray

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