Paul Evans, Sculpted Bronze Planter, USA, c. 1960’s
Todd Merrill Studio presents an unprecedented collection of original Paul Evans Studio “Argente Series” works from a distinguished private collection. This group of Paul Evans Studio works, which consists of a unique desk, dining table, cabinets, low table, and other pieces, were commissioned directly from the artist’s studio in the early 1970s, and have never been shown publicly.
From 1965 to 1972 Evans produced a distinctive line of aluminum Studio and commercial works under the title “Argente” (French for silver). The works are characterized by the complex graphic “drawings” that populate the tessellated patterns created by the juxtaposition of opaque black and reflective silver. Due to inherent difficulties in producing the line, which created a dangerous studio environment, “Argente” is one of Evans’ shortest lived, and now, most sought after series of works. While the “Argente” pieces produced for the influential furniture company Directional were simple rigid boxes, the works he created for private clients (such as the works on view) exhibit a daring ingenuity that is both sensational and functional. Complex structures and inventive forms foster multifaceted façades for Evans’ dynamic surface treatments and hand-etched designs.
In 1965, while maintaining his New Hope, Pennsylvania studio, as well as the production of works for Directional, Evans began exploring the possibilities of using welded aluminum to create sculptures and furnishings. As with most of his hand-crafted works, the primary source of inspiration was derived directly from the material itself, which was manipulated by extensive trial and error. The first of the aluminum pieces were a series of sculptures known at the time as “Sculptures in the Fields” from 1965. He introduced this exciting new line of furniture under the name “Argente” in a 1966 exhibition devoted to his work at America House. As private commissions of “Argente” works gained popularity amongst sophisticated collectors, in 1968 Directional debuted their first line of Argente pieces which included standard box cabinets, a basic armoire, and a cube that could be used as pedestal, stool, or side table.
Evan’s goal with the “Argente” works was to create a “flat piece that gave a feeling of depth.” Case pieces were sheathed in 1/8” polished aluminum sheets. The sheets of aluminum were welded, shaped and blackened with ink that was sanded, buffed, and textured with a blow torch to create an energetic decorative pattern with light and dark qualities. An acetylene torch was used to melt the aluminum so that it would pool in textured patterns in the direction of the flame. Evans’ revolutionary technique transformed the aluminum, which is usually flat, into a reflective metal with the look of sterling. Today, the few remaining “Argente” works demonstrably showcase the Studio’s innovation of material and unabashed bravado of design and decoration.
Evans explained his approach, “Most aluminum is anodized which gives it a flat look. Mine is done in a different manner and I am still working on the technique. This is a whole new approach to aluminum and these pieces I created for America House are my first approach to this metal, which has a great future because it fits with the mood and designs for many of today’s architects. Essentially it takes to furniture-making because of its sculptural potentials…”
Unbeknownst to Evans, the brazing and welding methods that were essential in creating joints and the decorative texture of the Argente works produced toxic fumes. Though large fans were used to ventilate the studio, those doing the welding kept cough drops in the mouths to stop the constant throat and nose irritation. In 1972 the Evans Studio ceased production the Argente works.
American furniture designer, sculptor, and artist Paul Evans, is one of the most recognizable and versatile figures in the American Craft Movement of the post-war period, and arguably the most collectible American furniture designer of the late 20th Century. Known for his innovative production techniques and experimental treatments in working with a variety of metals, Evans developed a distinct set of expressionist aesthetics that combined the pictographic collage-like compositions of modern artists such as Adolph Gottlieb and Louise Nevelson, with the raw naivety of the Brutalist movement. Whether it was one-of-a-kind commissioned Studio works or distinct lines produced for his collaboration with Directional Furniture, Evans’ furniture was anathema to the sleek, unadorned furniture designs that were permeating America and Europe, and continues to gain in popularity.
In 1961 Paul Evans and Phillip Lloyd Powell were invited to exhibit their work in Manhattan at America House, one of the earliest midcentury retail shops to specialize and educate the public to the value of American craft. Just like the MOMA Good Design shows of the same period, the America House exhibitions offered designer-craftsmen opportunities to display and market their work while also encouraging the acceptance of modern design in American culture.
Having seen the America House exhibition, B.G. Mesberg, founder of the popular furniture company Directional, hired Evans to create a line of handcrafted furniture based on his unique designs. Beginning in 1964, Directional began offering rigidly cubical pieces based on preset designs, which differed from the Paul Evans Studio pieces that were commissioned through a collaborative process with the client, rendering unique designs. With both his Studio works and Directional line, Evans sustained complete creative and quality control by personally overseeing his loyal production team and refusing to outsource labor.
Since the turn of the 21st Century, a fresh look at Evan’s extraordinary legacy has created a new appreciation for his unique designs, as well as a thriving market fueled by a passionate group of fervent collectors. In 2016, Wright Auctions broke the auction record for the highest price of Evans work, with the sale of a simple standing “Argente” cabinet for $293,000, well above its estimate. Just one year later, Rago Auctions transcended that record with the sale of a wavy hanging cabinet at $382,000.
|Dimensions||42 × 21 × 30.5 in|
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