MEET THE ARTIST: Kevin Jerome Everson

In this entry, excerpts from the How to Remain Human catalog are used to explore one of the artists in that exhibition, Kevin Jerome Everson.


Below are samples from two essays and an interview with the artist:




How to Remain Human curator Megan Lykins Reich discusses the importance of practice and repetition in Kevin Jerome Everson’s Tygers (2014). Her essay Practice Makes Performance is available in full in the How to Remain Human catalog. She begins:


'Practice makes perfect' is a false euphemism. Practice makes something, but it’s never perfection since humans are intrinsically imperfect. At most, practice creates exceptional or extraordinary ability, the best of the best—— think Olympians, Nobel prize-winning scientists, or master chefs. More often, practice makes competent, cohesive, or effective. In certain industries or disciplines, practice is a behind-the-scenes activity that leads to on-stage success, something that informs but is not displayed or celebrated. In other areas, like law, medicine, and art, practice is (philosophically) the focus; the process of repeating acts to deepen and sharpen skill is revealed because it is the purpose, the point.”





How to Remain Human catalog author Michael B. Gillespie touches on the use of “documentary” footage as a motif and a red herring in Kevin Jerome Everson’s work. You can read his full essay, Grace and Grind: Notes on the Work of Kevin Jerome Everson in the catalog.


Fe26 (2014) illustrates Everson’s poignant disregard for any suggestion of documentary as an exercise in truth. The film is scripted verité set in East Cleveland and observes characters who are scrap scavengers who specialize in stripping abandoned homes of their valuable remains. But the script speculates on manhole covers as a prized possession. The film, like much of Everson’s work in general, pivots on the over determinacy of a black image, the visual rendering of blackness. Coupled with the documentary conceit, East Cleveland might be thought to correspond to a black everyday, but in fact does not. The manhole cover shenanigans are artful forgery as Everson himself cast one of the manhole covers and a crowbar used in the film. Fe26 is avant-garde comedy about craft, genre, and the art of artifice; an abstraction of form rather than an exposé on the trickle down truths of black communities.”





The How to Remain Human catalog features excerpts from an interview between author Michael B. Gillespie and Kevin Jerome Everson. It gives some deep insights into his background and work and approach to making. You can read his full essay, Grace and Grind: Notes on the Work of Kevin Jerome Everson in the catalog.


Michael B. Gillespie: When did you first start making art or identify as an artist?


Kevin Jerome Everson: I began when I was getting my BFA in Photography at the University of Akron. I continued growing as an artist while getting my MFA in Photography at Ohio University. I was doing a lot of street photography, people like Roy DeCarava, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand. But really I was always dealing with multiple media. I was doing sculpture, printmaking, and painting. I did some films in school but mostly for me it was all about the influence of my undergraduate teachers. They all came from Kent State, Ohio, and Iowa where it was all about material, process, and/or procedure. So for me, the work always has to project its material, process, and/or procedure. Even the film and video. 


MBG: One of the ways I continue to identify with your work involves the way it defies the expectations of black art, experimental art, and the meeting between the two. Why do you primarily work with film and video? What does film and video do for you more so than sculpture, painting, or photography?


KJE: Well, I haven’t stopped working with multiple media. I finished my last large body of serious photography when I was in Rome at the American Academy back in 2001. Beyond the fact that I’ve been teaching film more, my move to working more with film and video has lot to do with the things I’m trying to say about gestures, tasks, and conditions. I’m interested in duration and time-based media works best for that.


MBG: How has Ohio informed your work? 


KJE: I identify as someone from Northern Ohio. Unemployment, employment, migration from the South, language, weather, benchmarks, and basements. These are the keywords for my craft as I continue to try and get better as an artist. I’m drawn to what gestures might represent.


MBG: Do you still bristle at being called a black avant-garde or experimental artist?


KJE: I would still prefer to be called an artist. I’m still down for the everyday political and the every other day political.


MBG: People have to write dissertations, Kevin. You can’t be just an artist. On that note, why do you refuse to identify as a documentarian or want your work thought of as documentaries?


KJE: Because nothing is real in my work, everything is made up. My work documents artifice. I’m working on a project with a colleague who wants to do documentary. The first thing that I was thinking about was when to start auditioning actors.


MBG: We’ve spoken before about how you connect black intellectual practice with “being satisfied.” I’m thinking about the footage of your family in Erie (2010) discussing how working in the factory used to be about a certain kind of pleasure derived from a craft, but that eventually as management became less labor identified it became just work and finally, drudgery. How are your ideas of labor and being satisfied inflected in your work? 


KJE: For me, being an artist is the practice of getting better. Art is not necessarily a job. I don’t just want to do my work well. I want to develop. I have a responsibility to my family, my hometown of Mansfield, close friends, and a history of former students to keep making that art. I’m not a doctor so I don't heal, and I’m not a lawyer so I don’t advocate. I’m an artist, so I have to keep cranking out cultural artifacts. I tell my students I am an artist and a teacher, but mostly an artist. I want them to believe that. So, I prove it every day, week, month, season, and year. Art has to be made. 


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