Monday, 2 November 2009

Tony Evans, Sculpturer

It was not until he was in his mid 50s that Tony gave up his day job and went to Art College. His transformation from insurance salesman to extremely talented and increasingly successful sculpturer is nothing short of extraordinary. To look at it is hard to imagine he ever made a living selling life policies and I have to admit I was slightly disappointed to discover this.

His eyes are large and penetrating, somewhat hooded in a sexy way, and he is the kind of person that you are sure you have met before. I passed him at an exhibition in the Liverpool Town Hall and stopped to say hello, then realized I did not know him at all. His work I was already well acquainted with, however, through the excellent and witty photographs taken by Jim Connolly.

Tony’s sculptures are of animals fashioned from hammered copper and bronze, the anatomy dissected to leave you with neither skeleton nor sinew, but an alluring mixture of both. They impart the impression of flight, but Tony does not. He is calm and steady, and incredibly modest, almost as if his success has caught him by surprise.

After I had overcome my embarrassment at thinking I knew him, I asked Tony to sit for me. This was solely because his face bears a striking resemblance to that of Samuel Beckett as portrayed by the acclaimed Jane Bown, a photographer who was my earliest inspiration.

When I first started off I will confess that on the technical side I was somewhat lacking and when it came to flash this was more apparent than anywhere else. Quite frankly flash terrified me, so much so that I called my business “Black and White in Natural Light”. Just to make things clear. So it was to my great delight that I discovered that Jane Bown not only shot exclusively black and white, but also did not carry a flash. I make do with a light bulb if I must, she said. I tried it and it works.

So back to Tony. I wanted to “do” him à la Jane Bown meets Samuel Beckett. I think Tony thought I wanted to “do” him in another way, and so, as a happily married man, he was understandably somewhat cautious. However, I managed to convince him and turned up at his studio based in an old bridewell one sunny afternoon. He was in the midst of fashioning an immense Pegasus for The City of Liverpool, and it dominated the dusty room with its rusty shades of spatula-ed bronze and copper.

There was a little too much light there for my purpose, but I spent about ten minutes moving Tony around in the room’s darkest recesses on the off chance of a lucky murky shot, and then I bid him farewell. Jane Bown was always quick.

The photos were good, but not quite what I had in mind so we met again some months later to repeat the shoot. I asked him to wear a black turtleneck and meet me at Starbucks on Castle Street. Always the gentleman, Tony wore the turtleneck (borrowed) and paid for the coffees (insisted). This time I had taken the precaution of bringing that iconic image of Beckett with me to show him. Tony was impressed with it, and thus prepared, we went down to the depths of St James’s train station.

There, in front of lavatorial yellow Victorian tiles lit hazily by smog encrusted underground lamps, I took him. Of course I would never pretend to equal Jane Bown, but nevertheless, the photo was as craggy and haggard as I had hoped. Like his animals defined by hammered metal, so Tony’s face was chiselled by the light into sinews and shadows. Fitting, I think.