Bed Sheet Dreams


As I write this Tate Britain has opened what purports to be a definitive show of Francis Bacon's work. Considered one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century, Bacon gained notoriety for his distorted depictions of the human body.

Looking at the photographic artist John Paul Evans' series 'Bed Sheet Dreams' (2005) is like seeing aspects of Bacon's work rendered for the digital age: colour and form shifting and metamorphic; gestures uncertain, bodies distorted with grin and grimace.

It is this work, the 'Bed Sheet Dreams', that I want to write about here, as it represents a departure for Evans, not in terms of subject matter,but certainly in terms of concept, form and approach. A series of photographic self-portraits using a digital camera held at arms length, the images depict what Anthony Howell (John Paul Evans 2005) describes as a grotesque amalgam of '...horror and laughter, abject and sublime tensions.' This is evinced in the image 'Blue Dream 3' (2005) in which Evans' expression is at once monstrous and 'other'. 'Pink Dream 1' (2005) is womb like and suggestive of birth and innocence, while at the same time alluding to the sexuality of the mature male body. 'Red Dream 3' (2005) is fully sexual; red the colour of passion and blood, and the moment captured orgasmic and visceral. 'Pink Dream 13' (2005) offers another transformation, an androgynous figure caught in a moment of balletic transition. These subtle shifts and transformations are emphasised by the strong background colours of the sheets, which imply psychological subtexts and art historical antecedence.

But for all their painterly qualities these are unmistakably photographs and in this, as in previous work, Evans has a deep engagement with technology. In 'Bed Sheet Dreams' he does not simply engage with technology, but embrace it, quite literally holding the camera at arms length while moving over the bed sheets in a cybernetic fusion of man and machine. The camera becomes an extension of the artist, an extension that is inverted, turned inward, not outward, unlike the historical role of photography, that of 'window on the world'. In the world of the 'Bed Sheet Dreams' the camera explores an inner, subjective world of imagination, fantasy and projection. Evans' loose and playful use of the digital camera, allows for slippage and accident, the slow shutter speed and subsequent blurring making it impossible to know exactly what will be captured.

The inability of digital camera technology to capture movement in the same way as analogue photography, Cartier Bresson's 'decisive moment', being precisely the random factor that Evans' exploits in this work.

Evans (John Paul Evans 2005) describes his images as capturing a 'movement of time, rather than a moment in time'. Movement or moment, Evans is an artist who thinks deeply about his practice and his explorations of the male form and male sexual identity represent a twenty first century exploration of the photographic male nude and its physical and technological adaptation into the male 'body'.


Karen Ingham September 2008


Originally published as part of ' AXIS Open Frequency'