Cerith Wyn Evans

“I’m not a blond on a bum trip,” 54-year-old Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans says. “I’m a bum on a blond trip.” If human beings can be national landmarks, Wyn Evans should file for status. His dandified, intellectual-but-impulsive personality and rigorous works in multiple mediums have made him a cult figure in the British art world and a guru for young artists. Wyn Evans, whose cluttered white studio sits above a dentist’s office in Bloomsbury (his apartment is right across the street), has just returned from Hong Kong, where he showed one of his signature neon quotation signs and his elaborate crystal chandeliers that blink on and off to unheard music by artists such as the Rolling Stones and Mahler. “That was the first opening I’ve been to in five years,” he swears. “You never go to your openings. It’s just so brutal. For one, I’m kind of a socialist. And they never invite the bloody people who install the show.” Installation is a key ingredient to Wyn Evans’s works. His films, sculptures, and neons fly in the face of anti-intellectualism. Potted palms with a white balloon rising above the leaves that works like a screen for a projected film, exit signs reading backwards, quotes and codes that reference Pasolini, Huysmans, Klossowski, Debord, and others (in a 2007-08 show at White Cube, the exterior blinds opened and closed to a Morse code text of phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty) all force the viewer into an uncomfortable, left-of-solid-ground position where the more you investigate, the more you see, and the more equipped you are to negotiate the environment. But Wyn Evans’s lyrical assemblies possess a poetic sensibility that isn’t so much spiritual as grounded in a private place. Whether the bum trip he speaks of references the 1968 acid film Blonde on a Bum Trip or a Candy Darling quote attributed to her work on Andy Warhol’s Women in Revolt (1971), the influence of cinema is a constant in his work. Wyn Evans started out in film, assisting Derek Jarman in the 1980s, making his own poetic film studies of still lives. His 1998 short film Firework Text (Pasolini), in which ignited fireworks flare and die spelling out a Pasolini quote, mimics the way image is projected on a screen. During our conversation, Wyn Evans told a very dirty joke, admired his own white suit, recalled meeting Andy Warhol, and forced me to watch YouTube clips, including Nico singing “New York, New York” and performance artist John Kelly singing Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” in drag. What’s not to love?