Whether they know it or not, every Austinite is familiar with the work of Evan Voyles. An Austin-based artist and sign maker, Voyles’ portfolio includes such iconic sights as the Stubb’s BBQ sign, the neon Gibson guitar at the airport, and the rabbit sign perched above Uncommon Objects on South Congress.
Voyles was one of the artists representing his hometown at the second annual POP Austin International Art Show, held last weekend at Fair Market on East 5th Street.
We talked with Evan about his work and the changing Austin landscape.
Shuffle: You are one of the handful of local Austin artists exhibiting at POP in 2015. To start off, please tell us a bit about the artwork you’re bringing to the show. Did you adhere to any particular theme for this exhibition?
Evan Voyles: I have always been interested in what happens to commercial signs, or any other painted surface, as it decays, weathers, is repurposed or is taken out of context. The piece I did for this show is part of a new series using abstract argon tubing “parts” from the large letters often found in outlet malls. Part of the “illumination” herein is the tension between random and deliberate placement, between former commercial and latter artistic use, and an almost painterly approach to what is literally a rigid form of expression.
Shuffle: POP’s theme this year is “illumination,” and the show will focus on light-based art, which is definitely one of your strengths. Do you feel extra pressure to – pardon the pun – outshine the competition?
Voyles: All puns pardoned, no pressure! I am eager to see what the others bring…
Shuffle: Your signs – including the Stubb’s sign, the Uncommon Objects rabbit, and many others – have become well-known Austin landmarks. How does it feel to have shaped Austin’s appearance so much?
Voyles: I am proud and pleased to have so many signs become “landmarks,” and I do strive always to create such. But remember, I could not do so without a creative and dedicated group of clients, most of whom are my friends and co-conspirators!
Shuffle: If the City of Austin gave you free rein to redesign the appearance of any part of Austin from the ground up, which area would you pick and how would you improve it?
Voyles: I am known for my collection of work on South Congress, which was forged over a twenty-year period without any particular involvement from the city. I prefer this sort of organic revolution of individual entrepreneurs, rather than receiving some official fiat from a governing body.
It would be interesting to see some South Congress funk north of the river on Congress. Like a twin…
Shuffle: While your signs exhibit a lot of personality and creativity, they are, of course, also a kind of advertisement. Your art also seems to draw from a pop tradition that is often fascinated by commercialism. Does this intersection between art and commercialism interest you?
Voyles: Yes, I seem to live in the intersection between art and commercialism (dodging traffic!). My signs inform my artworks and vice versa. There is something intoxicating about having one’s daily work out in the street for all to see.
Shuffle: As POP Austin returns for a second year, it is being viewed as a signal that Austin is on a path to becoming a destination for international contemporary art collectors. As a native Austinite and an artist interested in sense of place, how do you imagine Austin’s art scene in the future? Do you have any concerns that Austin’s local flavor will be underrepresented in the future?
Voyles: I have long thought that there is something in Austin’s water supply that lures, captivates and sustains creative and entrepreneurial people. They wander in from out of town and somehow never leave. My grandfather, for instance, came to UT nearly a century ago, dropped out to pursue a business deal, and stayed to prosper.
This has been true since Austin’s inception, and the only thing that has changed is the rate of influx, and the distances these seekers have traveled to arrive … home.
As long as we remain true to ourselves, and our mission to make Austin a center for authentic expression, and do not lose sight of the discipline it can take to achieve that goal, Austin will withstand the increased pressure that accompanies such an influx.
I believe that POP Austin founders, Steve and Lana Carlson, have drawn a line in the sand with their saber, and I, for one, want to participate in the fate of the mission! I believe this show is the start of something great.