This month at the Grey Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St., we are honored to have, included in the current exhibit, three prints by Evan Summer, professor of art at Kutztown University. Professor Summer's works have been on display in galleries worldwide, and are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
I spoke to Summer on a frosty, early-winter evening. The moon was just a day less than full, perfect for exploring Summer's mysterious and cool prints.
Their intense, almost brittle architecture is softened by what feels to me like moonlight - icily clear, but with tones that warm and caress all the same. Even his drawing of a Chinese toad, or his drypoint of a fly, seem to be nocturnes.
As a poet, I work with language, where Summer works with light and form, but looking at his work, the practice of poetry and the practice of printmaking struck me as very similar endeavors.
His landscapes drew me in the most, appealing to my poet's sense of line and rhythm.
REBECCA KINZIE BASTIAN: Your landscapes strike me as both breathlessly tumultuous and, somehow, also filled with air. Can you tell me about these places?
EVAN SUMMER: I have always been fascinated by places. As a kid, I dreamed a lot about places where I would get lost. I had some pretty bad nightmares. I really think some of that came back in my work later on - being lost in a place wondering around. The collagraphs were about being in a place and not being able to find your way out.
As I got more into the landscapes, I started also thinking about the vestiges of manmade objects still existing but in a natural environment and the kind of equilibrium that the two were in - in conflict and balancing each other.
RB: You talk about the fact that your dreams and nightmares influence your work. That seems really clear to me. The combination of strong architectural lines and buildings with this mysterious, dreamlike landscape has the kind of tension that makes a poem or a piece of music appeal to me.
ES: Sure. There is a kind of surreal side to the work, especially when it is combined with the natural landscape. You really can see the duality there. Part of the tension in these landscapes has to do with time - something about time standing still in them. I'm trying to create the stillness and quiet of the environment, but with stuff going on concurrently. There is a dynamic there but it is a very quiet one.
RB: I know many of your landscapes are inspired not only by dreams but also by the New York State landscapes of your childhood. What brought you to Pennsylvania?
ES: I'm a fairly shy, quiet person from the suburbs of Buffalo, NY. I went to the state university in Buffalo for my undergraduate work in art and to Yale for graduate school. I really came to PA when my wife was going to school and got into the University of Pennsylvania for law school. I got a job at Kutztown University and have taught there for 25 years. Now, after years of commuting from Philadelphia, I live within walking distance of the university and I have an outbuilding here that I use as a studio. It used to be used as a John Deer farm equipment showroom. Casey (Gleghorn, one of the owners of the Grey Gallery) stopped by and had a chance to see the studio when he was here one time for a show. It is a great place to work.
RB: There are many layers to your work, both figuratively and literally.
ES: Yes, for example, with collagraphs, I make them on something hard and strong - lately I have been using printed circuit board materials as a base for my collagraphs. I really started working with them when I was an undergraduate and I think the opposite happened to me than what usually happens to people. I went from making the collagraphs to making collages where I would just start gluing stuff. I'd think, "I really like the look of this plate better than the print and if I could add some color, say pastel or water color or oil paint to the collage, it would be just a stand-alone piece, never mind it being a plate or anything that would be printable."
RB: You studied chemistry before you got into this. Were you interested in art as a child? What brought you to art from chemistry?
ES: People ask me this all the time. I was interested in both science and art all along - I have a degree in chemistry - and I still have an interest in science. It sounds like such an extreme change but I didn't feel it. I was interested in both things all along and I continue to be. A lot of the work I do is procedural, a lot like experimental chemistry. I really feel that a lot of what I was doing in a lab and things like putting collages together have similarities.
RB: What is your favorite medium?
ES: Etching and drypoint on copper, but really I just like to draw. My plates are drawings on copper that gain some depth because these marks go into the plate. Every time I ink the plate, I can make variations of the image. Inking a plate is like playing a musical piece in that the notes are there but they can be played differently. Likewise, a plate is constant, but inking can emphasize certain aspects of an image and change the mood of an image. I print my own editions in etching and collagraph so I get to recreate the image many times.
RB: Your students speak highly of you and you seemed to have influenced many young artists in a very serious direction. What are you doing differently that many teachers in your position are not?
ES: I like teaching and helping students become professional artists. I talk to them about things that I consider genuinely important and I try to be honest with them while still being encouraging. Many of them major in art without any idea of what it means to be a professional artist. For example, they think when they graduate from art school everything will be perfect and that they will have plenty of time to do their work. Art is hard work and life is time consuming. When I was younger I used to say, "Oh, I have to be in the right mood; I have to be inspired when I work." Now, truthfully, I just do it whenever I can.
RB: How would you say you have influenced the local art scene in Williamsport, directly or indirectly?
ES: I had a solo show and gave a talk at Penn College of Technology in 2009. That was the first time I was in Williamsport. Penny Lutz did a terrific job organizing and curating the show and I enjoyed my visit to Williamsport. This is only the second time I've shown in Williamsport with my three prints in the Grey Gallery show. But my students and former students are around the area. Chad Andrews, who graduated over 20 years ago, is running a printmaking workshop at the Pajama Factory. Lori Crossley is teaching in the local high school. More recent grads and current students are showing in Williamsport - Tina Yesenofski, Chris Leete, Danita Moore, Josh Dannin. I think there are others too. Even Cheryl Hochberg, who is the chairperson of my department at KU, recently had a show at Penn College.
RB: What were your first impressions of Williamsport and its art scene? The Grey Gallery?
ES: I have been incredibly impressed with Williamsport. Just driving in for the opening at the Grey Gallery, there was so much activity on the street in the evening. It seems that you have an incredible social and cultural scene there. You usually don't think of a smaller town being able to sell higher-priced art and yet, there is Casey at the Grey Gallery, mounting a Dan Dallmann show with pieces priced over $10,000! That seems to be kind of pushing the limit for Williamsport, but I think it may just be a time for that limit to be broken. I was surprised and I think it's absolutely wonderful that you have this kind of art scene and gallery in Williamsport.
To see Evan Summer's work, visit the Grey Gallery and read more on his website www.evansummer.com.
Poet Rebecca Kinzie Bastian holds a master's degree in fine art from Vermont College and currently works as an editor and copywriter in Pennsylvania.