The grooves of a certain kind of boot, size 11 or so, look like human teeth. This nuance was made apparent by the mop paintings of artist Evan Robarts, whose work with common materials that are uncommon to art—chain-link fence, scaffolding, garden hose—endows the familiar with new purpose.
Robarts’s first major solo show opened last week at The Hole in downtown Manhattan. Inspired by his time working as a superintendent in East New York, “Run of the Mill” is politically charged and socially motivated, but visitors need not come equipped with knowledge of Robarts’s message to appreciate his play with and manipulation of ordinary forms.
On view are selections from three distinct bodies of work. In a series of “line drawings,” rubber tubing snakes through glass panels that are bolted to the wall or propped on the floor. Using three different kinds of glass, each piece obtains its own personality and relationship to the space, some reflecting the surroundings and others turned inward, frosty and contemplative. His mop paintings are made with plaster, linoleum, and custodial equipment, tracing the processes by which they were made.
The third sector is a series of site-specific scaffolding works that reside in a room separated from the rest of the space. Wrested from its role in the city’s ubiquitous revitalizations, the artist reveals scaffolding’s surprising kinship with children’s toys and jungle gyms, an “institutional critique,” he says, in the same vein of Sol LeWitt’s wall paintings.
Beyond mere reappropriation, “Run of the Mill” is a “celebration of this material,” the New York-based artist says, and a “preservation of where I was in my life. My experiences enabled me not to make work, but to do what was natural.”
In an Interview exclusive, Robarts is the subject of an artist film from director Elena Parasco. Frustrated with what she perceived as an unendurable sameness in the genre, her film seeks to “augment the experience” of viewing art. The film “doesn’t cocoon [the work],” Parasco said. “It incites participation.” Watch the video below to see Robarts at work firsthand.