Mardi, 25 juin 2024
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    The art of Evergon

    Artist, teacher, queer activist and cultural icon Evergon was “gobsmacked” to receive one of the Artistic Achievement Awards in the 2023 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts

    During a prestigious career spanning more than 50 years, Montreal-based Evergon – born Albert Jay Lunt in 1946 and also known by the names of his alter-egos Celluloso Evergoni, Egon Brut and Eve R. Gonzales – has been recognized as being at the avant-garde of experimentation in the field of photography and lens-based mediums. 

    Evergon has described his creative practice as erotic and pornographic, and his work is an important precursor of homoerotic contemporary art. His works are included in private and institutional collections around the world, and have been displayed in international exhibitions including the career retrospective Evergon – Theatres of the Intimate that just wound down at the Musée national des beaux arts du Québec.

    A former professor at the University of Ottawa, the Art Institute of Chicago and Associate Professor of Photography at Concordia University in Montreal where he is a professor emeritus, Evergon – by exploring his own sexual identity – has contributed to an explosion of interest in the social construction of gender in art in Canada.

    We recently sat down for a candid Q&A.

    First of all, congratulations on winning the Artistic Achievement Award. How did you find out and what was your reaction? 

    Well, I’m a post-COVID long-hauler, so I was napping when they called me and this  woman kept talking and talking and talking. At the end, she asked me your question: How does it feel? And I said, “It’s about fucking time!” My personal feeling is it was long overdue. That has also been the sentiment of most of the people who have written me congratulations. It also feels like a validation for me personally and for the gay movement.

    Was there not a time during your career when you were breaking barriers on the queer frontlines? 

    I’ve been doing it all through the career, sometimes screaming, sometimes not. In the early days I was out marching with everyone else and making posters and banners for Gays of Ottawa.

    Over the course of your career, how has the world changed in its appreciation of queer artists and homoerotic art? 

    I think it’s more accepted by the general public today. I think it has always been accepted by those in the movement. Gay and queers accepted Tom of Finland early but acceptance by the general public didn’t come until later. I think that’s the case most of the time, it takes the straight world time to catch up.

    Do you find that our cultural gatekeepers are more conservative than the general population?

    No. I’ve had incredible support from museums and private galleries. All the people who have been involved in my career and my success have been very supportive. The backlash is usually by a vocal part of the general public.

    I once asked The Factory’s first superstar, poet John Giorno, why Andy Warhol wasn’t more openly gay in his work, and John replied, “Because being gay was the kiss of death.” Did your being out hinder your own career in any way?

    Being out has always been important for me and probably given me a very special audience that has always been there and supportive. I can only word it this way: tell the truth because then one is not open to such attacks.

    What was it like for you growing up as a gay kid in Niagara?

    I wasn’t a gay kid. My brother was the gay kid. He was drag-queen high drag and was sort of sexually active at the age of eight. It took me until I was 25 to come out. Partly because the gays that were presented as an option were not the gay activities I was interested in.

    What was it like to have a younger gay brother? 

    Terrorizing. He was aggressive, sexually aggressive, and we had very different ideas about what life was about and for.

    Your brother died of AIDS complications. How did this affect you? 

    I’m going to sound very wicked here: I danced in the streets. I tried several times to be his friend, but my relationship with my brother and my father were just about nil.

    I realize this is unpleasant territory for you.

    No, it’s perfectly fine.

    We survived AIDS. Do you worry that people today are forgetting how AIDS ravaged the queer community in the 80s and early 90s?

    Yes, because we now have drugs they believe will deal with the problem. We’ve gone backwards in our prevention of AIDS and of social behavior.

    How incredibly brave your mom was to pose nude for your Margaret and I portfolio. 

    My mother commissioned the work. I had asked her to be my model for my thesis back in the 70s and because of my father she refused. So all those years she lived regretting it. As soon as he died she was in a much more secure position. She insisted on being photographed nude.

    She trusted you completely. 

    We trusted each other. She’s the one who kept me alive.

    You have taught at many great institutions. You once said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” What did you mean by that?

    I think a lot of teachers in the arts depend on technique. I prefer to get students to come to terms with who they are, what their strengths are, and what their work will be about for the rest of their lives. I would rather deal with giving people strength or the right to do something than just tell them, “This is how it’s done.”

    My favorite portfolio of yours is Ramboys. Where did the idea come from?

    From the Greeks. The pan figures and pieces from Greek mythology. I’ve always gone back to history or mythologies for sourcing of work, but to modernize it and play with it.

    L’attribut alt de cette image est vide, son nom de fichier est EVERGON_by_Gigi_Angeletti_Jean_Jacques_Ringuette_2016_1709-819x1024.jpg.

    Are you an artist who happens to be gay or are you a gay artist?

    For me, gay or queer politics have always been in my work.

    Our society is obsessed with aging and weight loss, two prominent themes in your work. Were you ever obsessed with age and weight as well?

    I love being a big man. I’ve been a big man most of my life. I found it terrorizing to be normal size. That’s just a personal thing. Now I’m now 77 and life is as good as it can be.

    In this digital age, when people upload millions of photos to social media each day, is photography still important? 

    Yes, I think it’s the communication language. But I also think photographs are fiction. They’re documents but they’re not reality. My work has primarily been about fiction or docu-fiction. There’s a different relevance there.

    You are incredibly prolific, with more than 1,000 solo and group shows to your credit. Are you still very active in your practice? 

    I will work till I drop. In my career retrospective at the Musée national des beaux arts du Québec there were three pieces from last year. 

    Do you have a favorite time of day for work?

    Well, in my older age, daylight hours seem to work the best.

    Do you get out much these days?

    Not as much as I want because I put a knee out. I’ve got a brace on and probably will have new knee joints put in in the next year. I would love to be more active but I’m still working. Right now we’re going back through thousands of negatives and images from the Manscapes series, and we’re working towards possibly a book to be published beyond 2025.

    How do you feel when people call you a living legend – because you are, Sir.

    I know, but I’m also a dinosaur! 

    Evergon’s work is on display at the Musée d’art de Joliette as part of the group exhibition The Studio as Art. Histories of Artists’ Studios in Quebec until May 14. 


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