Bob Evans at 75: Painting Past and Present

Bob Evans, painter
Bob Evans, painter

A Nottingham-based artist who has painted city scenes for the past 40 years is marking his 75th birthday with an exhibition of past and present work.

Bob Evans arrived in Nottingham in 1968 to study fine art at the Nottingham College of Art and Design after six years of ‘ducking and diving’ in Southsea, Spain and Birmingham.

Late Bus, by Bob Evans

Late Bus, by Bob Evans

After graduating in 1973 he was a superbly-unwilling teacher for ten years at Bramcote Secondary Modern School for Boys and the Park Comprehensive School, before turning professional.

For the last 40 years he has exhibited and sold oil paintings, watercolours, linocuts and charcoal drawings locally and nationally. And although he has been forced to support himself with part-time teaching and academic jobs, Evans has always made art his first priority.

His motto is simple: “Painting first, everything else last.”

And his advice to artists is even simpler: “Get on with it, don’t talk about it.”

Lou, by Bob Evans

Lou, by Bob Evans

Damien McGinley, friend and fellow artist, said: “Bob does not look at the world like most people. In fact he doesn’t observe the world like most contemporary painters.

“He’ll probably kill me for saying this, but he has a poet’s way of observing. Some would say he even physically resembles a poet.

“Shane McGowan immediately comes to mind - especially on a Monday, after a tough weekend on the lash!

“Joking aside, it’s those observations that are the key. Bob has produced work of a consistently high calibre for an extraordinarily long period, while at the same time maintaining an unbreakable sense of self, and integrity to his practice.”

Red Bus, by Bob Evans

Red Bus, by Bob Evans

Despite his daily appearances at the Lincolnshire Poacher where his reputation as ‘head customer’ has been hard and honestly won, Evans is serious about his work and follows a strict timetable.

A ‘light bulb’ went on in his head while watching a jazz band play at a pub in Bromley in 1956.

He memorised the scene then went home and stayed up all night drawing it. “That was my first method. Later I used a camera. I still have thousands of pictures in shoeboxes. These days I use a digital camera.

“I select a photograph. Decide the medium – oil or watercolour. Decide the size and prepare the support, draw and under paint. I keep on going until it’s ‘finished.’

Spread Eagle, by Bob Evans

Spread Eagle, by Bob Evans

Philippa Sharpe, Fine Art consultant at Castle Fine Art UK, said: “It’s easy enough to see how Evans’ painting approach can be transferred to various mediums with success.

“His impressionistic tone works the subject to add intrigue and a sense of other.

“This leaves the viewer in the position of the voyeur, viewing a scene from Evans’ eyes and so contemplating the narrative that has not yet been given.

“Just as Edward Hopper reflected modern American life, the scenes created are reflections of life as Bob sees it, and he sets it on fire by a bold and captivating colour palette.”

He sold his first picture in 1957 for £20: “The trouble is the prices haven’t risen with inflation.”

Evans began teaching art at schools in Nottinghamshire: “I did one year of probation and then became head of department. Clearly I possessed a sense of maturity which has since vanished.”

During the 1970s he exhibited his work at galleries throughout Nottingham but he struggled to reach a wider audience. A prestigious exhibition at the ICA followed by a national tour did little to raise his profile. “And on the strength of that my career went nowhere!”

Ten years at the chalk face of full time teaching was enough and in the early 80s Evans went part-time and moved into a studio on Warser Gate in the Lace Market – “a creative hub before they called it a creative hub.”

Evans says that teaching was always a means to an end: “It’s a waste of time. I could have been asleep or drunk.”

Despite this, he enjoyed some aspects of the job and helped promising pupils get their work exhibited at a national level. Arranging big exhibitions in the large spaces of schools that were designed to double as field hospitals in the event of World War Three taught Evans how to put up his own work quickly and efficiently.

As well as twice-yearly studio shows in his studio, the Old Angel’s chapel was pressed into service as a gallery for Evans and his colleagues.

He said: “We didn’t sell a lot but we did get a lot of people in to look at it. It was part of my public duty!”

He also launched the gallery at St Mary’s Church in the Lace Market with the exhibition 35 Views of St Mary’s.

The recession of the early 1990s derailed thousands of small business and Evans was no exception: he was forced to sign on. He said: “I could sell nothing. I lived in the studio – which was cold.”

Eventually he began to produce work again and exhibited at numerous galleries, pubs and restaurants in the city, as well as galleries in Lincolnshire, London and Glasgow.

He found a part-time job at Nottingham Trent as student support worker in 1999 and in 2002 gained a 2.1 BA Hons degree in Humanities from Nottingham Trent, specialising in English and History. He was invited to do post-graduate work but decided to concentrate on painting and has done just that ever since.

He continues to mount one or two exhibitions at the Lincolnshire Poacher a year and has recently shown work at a gallery in Donegal.

Damien said: “Does the relentless drink ethic create the artist? Or does the relentless artistic work ethic create the drinker? Only Evans knows. Answers on the back of a beer mat please.”

Evans works in a small bedroom cluttered with paints, frames and canvasses, books and jazz tapes, stacks of photographs and an ever-changing gallery of his own pictures.

Now he works from home in New Basford to a strict timetable before taking the number 69 bus into town and the Lincolnshire Poacher. Sitting at the end of the bar he drinks and natters with his cronies for three or four hours before returning home to read or watch a film on DVD before bed.

Unable to tolerate a television Evans classifies his interests as painting, books (literature and crime), music (jazz, blues, classical – especially chamber music) and drink.

“I am worse than Kant,” he said. “You can set your watch by me.

“God I want to shoot myself – it’s the life of Reilly!”

Bob Evans at 75: Painting Past and Present runs from Monday November 9 to Wednesday 11 at the Nottingham Society of Artists Trust on Friar Lane, Nottingham.

To contact Bob Evans call 07814648110 or visit www.bobevansnottm.com