Though artist Evan Dent is new to Albuquerque, he's clear on what works in this town: hand-painted signs on businesses and "killer" food.
To Dent, these are indications of a kind of authenticity that feeds his work. While he likes it here, he and his wife didn't arrive entirely by choice. The UNLV MFA grad had been living on Maine's Westport Island as part of an artist's residency when the economic downturn ended his position. A Reno, Nev. native, Dent turned back west to see what he could find.
"This is the first place I've ever come into cold," he says, without benefit of family or connections, which he recognizes isn't all bad. "It's kind of comforting being anonymous. There are a lot of social obligations that come with art, and it's kind of nice taking a break from that."
That's all set to change, though, with the opening of Dent's first Albuquerque show, Rascals, Scoundrels & Sitch at Cirq. He hooked up with the newish gallery simply by researching Albuquerque galleries and sending his stuff to ones that looked like they might fit.
All the work featured for this show is new. "I wanted to do everything fresh," Dent says. "This is the first body of work I've done in a new place. ... I've got all this new stuff all around me, and it's reflected in the work." He sees the effect of creating in response to place in the shifting of his palette. He uses more color now, due largely to the unique light of New Mexico. "There's absolutely amazing lighting here, especially in the afternoon and evenings," resulting in richer tones in his work.
“I'd finish them and think, God, that's creepy.”
Beyond color, his new work looks at characters, incorporating early studio animation characters into discordant situations as well as creating portraits of "certain characters." That comes, he says, from living in Las Vegas, Nev., "where you meet characters all the time. Literally. You'll be standing in line with Elvis at the checkout. That's not a rare thing."
Las Vegas' role as a mecca for characters of all stripes is part of the focus of a new comic collection in which Dent played a part. Drunk: A Comic About Bar Stories brings together 25 artists' takes on the kinds of tales people tell about bars, often while in bars.
The entries in Drunk (available online at vegasdrunk.com) range from the hilarious to the disgusting to the heartbreaking. It includes the work of well-known comic artists such as Ivan Brunetti and Kim Deitch as well as artists for whom comics isn't a primary focus. Dent's contribution to the collection is "Hot Dog Millionaire," which is quite possibly the creepiest entry in a book filled with heebie-jeebies.
Dent says the effect was, at least at first, accidental. "I wanted it to have more of a slapstick kind of a feel," but as he became more and more engrossed in detail and close-ups, the tone changed. "I'd finish them and think, God, that's creepy."
Though the paintings and drawings in Rascals, Scoundrels & Sitch differ from the work in Drunk, the focus on rough and tricky characters threads through both. The title of the Cirq show, specifically the word “sitch,” comes from the way, as Dent puts it, "salty old guys in Westerns say “such.” What's that gun for? It's for shooting squirrels and sitch. It's these kinds of subjects, rascally and ornery, that Dent's interested in and which, lucky for him, Albuquerque has plenty of.