Texture and Surface

Jeffrey Head

Paul Evans created several innovative production techniques resulting in a distinctive set of aesthetics. Instead of producing a singular signature look, he constantly experimented and refined his designs. He avoided narrowly branding himself in order to introduce a variety of individual, contrasting and varied pieces, while maintaining the highest degree of quality, regardless of size or the material used in the construction, whether it was a one-of-a-kind commissioned piece or produced for his Directional Furniture Line.

Sculptural panel by Paul Evans featured in an American House catalog, c. 1965. Image courtesy of Dorsey Reading.

The present lot is exemplary of Evans’ most compositionally diverse surface, the sculpted steel front cabinet featuring a variety of texture, color and pattern. Approximately only 75 of these cabinets were produced, making them the rarest of Evans furniture designs. These sculpted steel pieces also included decorative panels and room dividers. Each one was made with custom-designed, hand-forged elements, abstract motifs and shapes. Each part was painted with a different oil-based pigment then treated with heat and acid. The result was colorful and gave the pieces a rough, textured appearance. These small fragments were then welded into a boxlike set of vignettes. When seen together, in a completed cabinet front, the assemblage comprises a façade with depth and variety. The surface becomes a sculptural fabric, a tapestry.

The color palette for these pieces, while thematic, varied depending on the season. Evans collaborated with Robert “Cool” Thomas Sr., his finishing specialist on the steel front cabinets.  During each season the two men would visit the expansive fields near the Evans studio and note the colors and textures they saw in nature. “Cool” with a painter’s eye, worked with Evans and interpreted what they had seen as he treated and painted each object in the façade. 

Paul Evans, Dorsey Reading and "Cool" applying patina to a sculpture front cabinet, c. 1966. Courtesy of Paul Evans.

Among Evans’ divergent approach to creating different surfaces, each aesthetic, while incomparable, shares one common feature:  A rhythm and flow whether the pattern is swirling, askew or at right angles. Also, with every surface treatment the process, technique and effort appears deceptively simple.

Metalwork has been one of the neglected areas in American design, and has been unfortunate in being controlled by traditionalists in its design, and by the taste of large scale commercial producers who have demonstrated little interest in contemporary form. 

—Paul Evans

Paul Evans

Born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1931, Paul Evans exhibited talent for design at an early age. He studied woodworking in high school and briefly attended the Philadelphia Textile Institute. Evans was awarded the Aileen O. Webb Scholarship in 1950 and studied at the prestigious Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Craftsmen. He would continue his studies at Cranbrook in 1952 with a focus on metalwork. In 1953 he took a position as the metal craftsman at the living museum, Old Sturbridge Village. Feeling that his creativity was being stifled, Evans left the museum in 1955 to find a more stimulating environment. He opened a showroom with fellow designer Phillip Lloyd Powell and the two began a decade-long collaboration.

Evans’ experiments with welded and enameled sculpture in the early 1960s caught the eye of the Directional furniture company. Directional was looking for handmade furniture with distinctive character and Evans’ new American craft designs were a perfect fit. In 1971, Evans developed the brass and chrome Cityscape line for Directional marking a departure from his earlier sculptural works. In the 1980s, working with his son Keith, an electrical engineer, he continued to experiment with new materials and design increasing minimal forms with kinetic elements. Together, they formed Zoom, Inc. in 1983 and began a relationship with the Design Institute of America. In 1987, just one day after his retirement, Evans suffered his third heart attack and died.

Evans is now internationally recognized as one of the great studio furniture makers of the 20th century. In his finest work, such as Argente and Sculpted Front, he deploys his training in welding, metallurgy, and jewelry design to sculpt brutal and beautiful furniture in metal—work that prefigured the art furniture movement today.

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