Painting the human experience

I am extremely fortunate to be related to two incredibly talented individuals, Carl Stewart and Barbara Evans. As my half-siblings, they share the same father with me—the late Carl Stewart, Sr.—who was born and raised in Munford, Alabama. All three of us, as well as my brother, Wheeler, were born there, too.

Carl Jr. is founder and long-time director of Terrific New Theatre, one of Alabama’s most innovative—and fun—theaters. Carl himself sometimes seems larger than life, with his zest for edgy and campy productions, and his faithful role as ticket taker and wine server at each performance.

Barbara, on the other hand, has followed the more solitary and less visible art of painting. For years her colorful impressionist landscapes, garden and street scenes, intimate interiors, still lifes and occasional abstracts have bedecked homes and offices across the state. (See Barbara’s website here.)

But her current exhibition at Little House Galleries in Homewood shows that something else has always intrigued Barbara besides pigment and pastorals. That something is the human experience—or at least human expression and personality. Amidst familiar Barbara Evans landscapes and abstracts are about a dozen figure studies, mostly painted from the same female model. In each painting the figure is caught in a moment of reflection, a mood that is reinforced by titles such as “What Should I Do?” and “Possibilities.”

As Birmingham News reviewer James Nelson wrote, “The dominant feeling in these works is the degree of resignation that falls somewhere between querulousness and ennui. There is a haunting quality that suggests a pensive feeling of hope tempered by resignation.”

I agree, but, if you see her exhibition, don’t take these works as autobiography. Barbara’s paintings may be narrative in nature, but that’s because she takes after our father, her younger brother Carl, and other Southerners as a natural storyteller—not because she’s looking in the mirror with these works.

Speaking as one who listened to their jokes, tall tales and family reminiscences for years, I might even suggest that Barbara painted these soulful figures with more than a little ironic humor. The joke’s on us if we take them too seriously, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Carl is already scripting a new satire based on all these gaunt women in black.

Written by: Bob S.