By Jeremy Miles
Artist Hazel Evans - black wig, huge false eyelashes, a vision in hearts and bows - is beaming at me through an empty picture frame - or maybe it’s a mirror. Whether this is Hazel through the looking glass or some strange portal to a surreal black and white world I don’t know, but there’s certainly something special going on here.
“It’s great isn’t it.” she laughs. The photographer wants to take a picture of her on a plinth. “Are you allowed to stand on that?” she asks. “I’m allowed to do anything,” replies Hazel. And there you have it. The magic of creativity. We are standing amid The Monochronium, a multi-faceted art project that celebrates the communicative power and analytical intensity of monochromatic imagery.
Hazel, the first dedicated artist in residence at the Lighthouse Centre for the Arts in Poole has made a big impact since her arrival in 2010. She quickly produced highly acclaimed works for both Dorset Art Weeks and the Poole Literary Festival. A bubbly thirtysomething, she studied performance art, painting, creative writing and jewellery-making before graduating with a degree in contemporary art. More recently Hazel spent eight years living and working in France before returning to the UK. She also just happens to be an advanced diver and an expert on tropical habitat conservation.
For the past five years though she has been based in Poole and says Dorset is the perfect environment for her art to grow. “The coast, the Purbecks, the whole region is just wonderful. I really feel at home here and I’m sure it feeds into my work,” she told me. The Monochromium, which she established in the Lighthouse Gallery last October (2011), combines striking elements of her previous Dorset works. Central to the show is a series of vibrant black and white illustrations. The drawings, which include wonderfully energetic studies of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in rehearsal with their charismatic principal conductor Kirill Karabits, are part of the wonderful fusion of paint, pencil, ink, collage, music, print, performance and installation that makes up Hazel’s bizarre but brilliant artistic fantasy world.
I first talked to Hazel as she embarked on a 36 hour non-stop ‘Artathon’ during which fellow artists, musicians, writers, photographers and performers were invited to the gallery to make their own contributions to her unique work-in-progress. The result as I would later discover was startlingly exciting - a thrilling mixture of collaboration, invention, experiment and discovery. Precisely what this kind of art should be about but so often isn’t.
Happily the work will continue to evolve not only remaining in situ but being gradually worked and developed with some big, but as yet unrevealed, plans for this year’s (2012’s) Dorset Art Weeks. In the meantime she is launching a project called simply 52 - a creative journey through 2012 with a different artistic element being added every week.
Unsurprisingly perhaps Hazel’s work has been said to have “a Tim Burton feel about it.” The elaborately strange imagery of Burton’s films is born of a similar psychological landscape to Hazel’s art and she readily cites Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus as favourite tales too. It is clear that her personal style and visual image is integral to the whole project. She names Salvador Dali as a prime influence and cheerily mixes the antique with the modern.
Another inspiration is the sculptor, painter and flamboyant performance artist Andrew Logan, founder of the Alternative Miss World Contest . “I went to an exhibition of his and was so impressed by the interactivity and theatricality of his visual art that I felt my work would lend itself to a similar kind of treatment.” Bring on the dressing up box.
Hazel tells me the black wig is one of a pair. There’s a white one too. “I change them all the time,” she says. Each Monochronium morning she decides whether it feels like a brunette or platinum blonde day. Sometimes it’s neither. “I don’t always wear the wig and the eyelashes,” she assures me. “I go with what I feel like wearing.”
She believes her image - as we speak she is wearing a black top covered in white hearts -reflects what she’s doing with her art. “I used to dress up a lot as a child and I’ve done loads of theatre and performance art so this is a natural way to express myself.I love it.” The concept of the Monochronium developed gradually, she says: “It wasn’t intentional but when I started working at Lighthouse as artist in residence I began documenting things that I wanted to engage with like the BSO and I was drawn to just using a pen.
“I enjoyed working in black and white. It really helped capture the intensity of the music and performances. I have always loved illustrations and I realised that a lot of things I have worked with have been in monochrome - music scores on paper, words on paper - all kinds of things. I just thought it would be a great idea to see how far we could take it.”
This might sound just a little strange coming from such a colourful individual. But Hazel is clearly loving every minute of the project. She’s particularly excited by the possibilities opened up by inviting sundry painters, poets, playwrights and performers to add their own unique contributions.
I point out that she has in effect created her very own Warhol style ‘factory’. She thinks for a moment and glances across the studio. “You know it does feel like that. It’s such a lovely creative space and its been so good just to be able to experiment and find really interesting ways of doing things. It’s great to be able to have other artists feeding into it too.”
Hazel says she would eventually like to tour The Monochronium to other arts venues. “It would be wonderful to continue collaborating and exploring, discovering where working with monochrome can take you. Some people have raised an eyebrow and asked ‘Do you really not want me to use any colour at all?’ But confining yourself to just black or white opens up so many different doors.” See Hazel Evans work at Lighthouse, Poole. For further information go to www.lighthousepoole.co.uk or www.hazelevans.co.uk You can also follow her blog at hazelevans.blogspot.com/ or find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HazelEvansArtist