Anyone who has noticed the cows grazing (and sometimes flying) at any of the Range Cafés has absorbed the whimsy of Roger Evans.
The 91-year-old Placitas artist, who combines building materials and illustration with humor and social commentary, is showing his work at Wild Hearts Gallery through May 28.
His version of reality plays on the idioms of art in a contemporary society where real, imagined and simulated worlds collide. As contemporary art indulges in 3D virtual worlds linking users to digital screens, he uses his imagination to combine the physical with the imaginative.
A longtime illustrator once based in Chicago, Evans moved to New Mexico 52 years ago. He once created promotional work for architects.
“I’ve made things all my life,” he said. “I’ve never retired; I still do work.”
His piece “Sometimes the Truth Hurts” shows a gaping fish devouring another one. He makes philosophical points through humor.
“That’s how we exist,” he explained, “by taking the life of something else – like even vegetarians are eating the plant.”
Like many of his sculptures, “Sometimes the Truth Hurts” came to life through thin-set cement. Thin-set cement is an adhesive mortar made of cement, fine sand and a water-retaining agent. It’s usually used to attach tile or stone to surfaces such as cement or concrete.
“I carve it first in foam,” Evans said, “insulation you can buy at Home Depot.
“Everything is based on thin-shelled structures,” he continued. “All the structures are on the outside.”
They are hollow inside.
Evans begins with sketches before finalizing his designs.
“It’s based on positive imagery,” he said. “If there’s a story behind something, it’s the most fun.”
“Pedestal for Siamese Laudable Warbler,” a sculpture featuring a horse topped by a goat topped by a bird, began as a design of three horses. It bows in front of the Wild Hearts Gallery.
“The horse part was supposed to be just horses running,” Evans said, “two or three of them. I didn’t finish the other horse, so I turned it into a goat.”
“Somewhere Under the Rainbow, our Lady of the Road Runs. So Why O’ Why Can’t I?” is an homage to a Placitas runner. Its rainbow arcs above winding roads, hills dotted with juniper and a trio of horses.
“That is about a woman who you can see on the road,” Evans said, “who runs down the highway and she waves to everybody. So I call her the lady of the road. She waves to everybody – rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.”
Range Café co-owner Matt DiGregory met Evans when he was living in Placitas.
“Roger has been a life-long friend and guest and customer since we first opened in 1992,” he said. “He was one of the first artists we contacted. I always thought his artwork was a riot.”
“I think a lot of it is the hidden meanings and the whimsical, cartoonish nature of what he does,” he added.
When the Range opened in Bernalillo, Evans created a Coors Light billboard with the face of Albuquerque attorney Ron Bell peeling away beneath it next to police cars. Bell advertised himself to victims of drunk drivers.
A 1995 fire scorched both the cafe and the piece, then drowned the work with water damage. Evans took the painting home, restored it and brought it back for the restaurant’s reopening, DiGregory said.
“We just say, ‘Roger, we have this space, it’s yours whatever you want to do with it,’ ” he added.
DiGregory also owns some Evans pieces in his home. One is a 6-foot-tall box of animal crackers with the animals leaping from the structure.
“We’re always amazed by his creativity,” DiGregory added.
In the gallery, a limited-edition Evans lithograph “Cowch” depicts a cow sprawled across, of course, a couch.
“I take the cow and I put her into a human situation because we love cows,” Evans said. “They eat grass, the don’t kill other animals to live, so we want to celebrate their existence.”
He’s working on a new piece called “The Crack of Dawn.”
“It’s suggestive of how the light works in New Mexico,” Evans said. “I hope that it makes people feel good about wherever they live. I have been very fortunate to have lived here.”