In his latest series of paintings, currently on view at the Fischbach Gallery in New York, contemporary realist Christopher Evans creates broad sweeping vistas of serene landscapes. Rolling hills bask in the California sun under skies dappled with cumulous clouds; dawn cuts across the tops of mountains, opening the curtain on cloud filled valleys; and quiet waters on tidal plains reflect the crowns of distant trees.
It all sounds very “picturesque”, but there is an authority and clarity and forcefulness of detail to the images that push them well beyond “prettyness” into a subtle feeling of still contemplation, almost like a cinematic pause meant to focus our attention on the landscape in preparation for understanding how a story will unfold within it.
The “cinematic” element has other aspects relevant to Evan’s work. One element is the size and proportion of many of the works, which are panoramic and immersively large in scale. For example, Oak Tree Lake Sonoma (image above, bottom) is 37 x 84″ (94 x 213cm) and Sunlit Hillside Under Gray Clouds (above, top) is 32 x 80″ (81 x 230cm). The latter proportion, perhaps not coincidentally, is almost exactly the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of many widescreen movies.
The film context is of particular interest because Evans has been for a number of years one of the premiere matte painters in the film industry. He was head of the matte painting department at Lucasfilm during the filming of Return of the Jedi, and later established the Matte World Digital studio.
I don’t know of any collections, online or in books, of his matte painting work, but he is mentioned in The Invisible Art: The Legends of Matte Painting and From Star Wars to Indiana Jones: The Best of the Lucasfilm Archives.
You won’t find any mention of his matte painting career on Evan’s personal site, which serves as a portfolio for his gallery work. There you will also find previous series of paintings with different themes, including cityscapes, figurative work and interesting triptychs that combine those elements and others.
I only know about the connection between Christopher Evans the gallery artist and Chris Evans the matte painting artist courtesy of James Gurney, who visited the show at the Fischbach recently and has a post about Evans on his always fascinating blog, Gurney Journey.