“That’s the life force we get from being present in the moment, experiencing what is happening around us,” says Bill Evaul in his North Truro home, leaning forward in an elegant, antique armchair, his eyes alive with excitement. “The job of the artist is to let that energy flow through them without messing it up. If I can capture this in some way, that’s a big success.”
Perhaps nowhere in Evaul’s work is this life force more evident than in his many studies of musicians performing and, more recently, dancers jiving to their tunes. A musician himself, Evaul says that when he listens to music, he can see, hear, and feel the raw energy emanating from the performance. His art based on music, he says, makes up “the largest body of work based on one subject that I have.”
The space where music and art intersect has been an inspiration for Evaul since he was a young boy. Growing up first in Philadelphia, then in South Jersey, he and his sisters were often taken by his mom to museums. “I remember when I was maybe five or six years old and she took me to the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” Evaul says. “As we were leaving, I saw Picasso’s Three Musicians from the landing on the grand staircase. I was transfixed. My mother said, ‘Come on, let’s go,’ but I couldn’t move. That’s when she realized that I loved art.”
Now, the Cape Cod Museum of Art is celebrating Evaul’s artwork on the theme of music and movement with the retrospective exhibit “Song and Dance: Expressions from Life.” On view through Nov. 30, the show includes sketches, oil paintings, and Evaul’s renowned white line prints.
Each one of the white line prints is based on a number of sketches and paintings. Everywhere he goes, he fills sketchbooks with his impressions of “life as it unfolds before my eyes,” a practice he developed as a young artist inspired by Leonardo da Vinci. Evaul stores his sketches and cutout images in what he calls his “morgue,” i.e., filing cabinets and boxes, until the right time comes along.
Working from a vision or dream, Evaul will use the sketches to realize what he sees in his mind’s eye. “When I have a vision, the formal decisions have already been made,” he says. “I have all the laws of painting inside me. I don’t have to think about them. I just feel them and know them.”
Just as Evaul is inspired by the energy of one captured moment, he likes to paint “as much as I can in one sitting,” he says. “When you work fast, your strokes are freer. So, you get a fresher, more spontaneous result.” One of the paintings in the Cape Cod Museum show, Club Dancers, was done in a fury of creativity during the days leading up to the opening. “The paint on it is still wet,” Evaul adds with a smile.
He has been part of the Provincetown art community since the early ’70s. As a former director of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, gallerist, educator, local musician (performing with the Broke Brothers at the Old Colony), and, together with his wife, Skipper Swords Evaul, owner of the Moorlands Inn, a North Truro bed and breakfast, his generosity of spirit and support of the creative endeavors of others is well known.
As Evaul sees it, he’s just giving back what he has received. After dropping out of Syracuse University, where he was supposed to be pre-med but ended up spending all his time studying art, Evaul joined a friend on a night drive “to see the sun rise in Provincetown.” There, he met artist Ron Shuebrook, who got him to apply to the Fine Arts Work Center’s then-brand-new fellowship program. Evaul was accepted, spent two years as a fellow (from 1970 to 1972), and was hooked on the Outer Cape.
In those days, money mattered less than community, he says, and young artists were welcomed by those more established. Evaul remembers invites to the home of Tony Vevers and Elspeth Halvorsen, and he counts Myron Stout; Fritz Bultman and his wife, Jeanne; Jim Forsberg; and Robert Motherwell among those who supported him.
“It’s important to be there in your life, and to be receptive to the energy that’s all around you. That energy comes from other people, comes from situations, from nature, from the universe,” Evaul says. “You just have to be there for it, welcome it, and take it in without screwing up as much as possible.”
The event: “Song and Dance: Expressions of Life,” an exhibit of artwork by Bill Evaul
The time: Through Nov. 30, Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.; meet the artist, Thursday, Oct. 1 (and Nov. 5), 3 to 7 p.m.
The place: Cape Cod Museum of Art, 60 Hope Lane, Dennis
The cost: $10; seniors, 62-plus, $8; students, 19-plus with ID, and teenagers, 13-18, $7; children, 12 or under, free; meet the artist Thursdays: all day free