Artist Profile – Minnie Evans
Born Minnie Eva Jones in Long Creek, North Carolina, to a family of Trinidadian ancestry, Evans married Julius Caesar Evans at age sixteen and worked as a seamstress, domestic servant, and a shellfish hawker. She made her first drawing on Good Friday, 1935—an appropriate inaugural date for a painter so attuned to the Holy Spirit. From 1948 to 1974 Evans served as gatekeeper at Airlie Gardens near Wilmington, where the lush landscape likely inspired her art practice, and she sold her small drawings and paintings to visitors to the Gardens. Initially using ink, graphite, and wax crayon, she eventually began to work in oil paint, occasionally collaging her characteristically small-format pieces into larger compositions. She first exhibited in 1961 at Wilmington’s Little Tree Gallery; a year later, her work came to the attention of photographer Nina Howell Starr, who helped Evans attain shows in New York, leading to a 1975 solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Evans continued working into her twilight years, constantly refining her spiritual dream imagery and finding her work the object of international praise and eager collection.
The “visionary” label assigned to Minnie Evans and the exotic, fantastic subject matter central her work may be misleading, a critical oversimplification of her own sophisticated understanding of her art as related to African American Christian worship as well as to dreaming. Evans considered her paintings only dutifully abstracted transcriptions: “I can’t paint what I dream, because I paint a memorandum of my dreams. . . I have so many dreams about angels. I paint imitations of angels just as I’ve imagined them. I do not believe that there is an artist born who can paint an angel, because they come from the throne of God. We can get the imitation, but we can’t paint the real angel.”* Her stunning, hallucinatory “imitations” seemingly function as praise objects or prayers, sometimes accompanied by obscure, indecipherable scripts or spirit writing.
*Rogers, Barbara, “Draw or Die,” Wilmington Star News, January 19, 1969, B–1.33.