CLAIRE Evans paints beauty. In the best of her work, though, there is always an edge - a firmness of structure that defies mere prettiness, settling in around clear vision. Her landscapes of Colorado and Wyoming may picture "big-sky" flatlands or rolling hills, the subdued color of late summer when the wild grasses have all turned brown. But they show something more: a feeling for the clean, dry air and that peculiar Western light.
"Back Country" puts the sky in the water of a deserted pond. The foreground grasses, in sharp focus, trap the eye and then draw it to the water. From there, it travels to the softer, more impressionistically rendered middle- and background. The painting emanates tranquility without sentimentality. You can almost hear the bee-humming, bird-chirping hush of late summer far from the city.
Light is one of Ms. Evans's chief concerns. Sometimes she assembles a series of beloved objects on a windowsill. Glass and metal, flowers and toys bounce light off one another. The window behind may reveal only light - white and brilliant - glancing through the transparent glass.
Each of the objects has some special meaning not decipherable to the viewer. Together, they create an elegant harmony. In many of her paintings, hard textures and surfaces and forthright color anchored in solid, pronounced compositions are balanced against softer forms, diffused light, and delicate colors.
Evans is an excellent example of what she herself calls a regional painter - an artist doing her own thing despite what the New York/Los Angeles art market prescribes. The regional artist belongs to no movement and no identifiable school or style. Regional artists, by her definition, do not fit the academic mold, the popular Southwest realism mold, or the commercial art mold. With so much emphasis on commercialism and politics in art, the individualist may have a tough time of it, and Evans has, though s he supports herself on commissioned portraits and landscapes along with her more serious work.
Her realistic style moves from very tight stylistics - very precise, almost photographic reproduction, to a looser, slightly more Impressionistic realism - never ranging beyond what and how the eye actually sees.
"I want to convey the joy that I feel in what I see," she says. "I don't know how to put it so that it would sound less trite. That's really what I feel.... A photograph can't do what a paint brush can do. There is a quality to the paint. The texture. I love beautiful surfaces of paint. I love linen canvas and rich, juicy oils. I love the buildup of paint - the pleasure of loading a brush and smearing it across a canvas.... I like to do portraits so I can show people how beautiful they are. And the world
is a beautiful place. I'm not one of those Angst-ridden artists. I can't get into doing abuse art or political art. Other people do that, and some [do it] very well. But I'm on the other end of the scale. I have to be careful to stay away from too pretty."
For Evans, the temptation to sink into prettiness can be offset by solid craftsmanship, a strong structure in the composition, strong color values with a lot of complementary colors.
"Many artists have left the craftsman-like approach to art," she says, "and I think people deserve something that is well made. Craftsmanship is learning to see and learning to draw."