In her recent show, London-based artist Evie O’Connor takes her critique of class structures one step further. What Will Become of Us opened at Taymour Grahne Project’s new gallery space in Notting Hill last month and is open for a few more days until 18 June 2021. When we first met the painter, she took us through the central themes of her work, tied closely to personal histories. Now however, Evie’s thoughtful work has taken a different route, her focus turning to the excess of lifestyle and culture for the affluent. In particular, she shines a light on how the pandemic affected the top one per cent very differently from the rest, partaking in conversations surrounding wealth, privilege and class as seen through popular culture.
She tells us, “For so long we’ve willingly been fed images of aspirational living through celebrity and influencer culture and it took the pandemic to shift a lot of peoples’ perspectives and see these images for what they are, empty.” In turn, Evie weaves this into her paintings, presenting the viewer with a series of works which appear seductive and alluring on the surface; but the closer you look, the more flaws are unveiled. The artist has been working away on this revealing body of work for the past year at a studio residency at Sarabande, a foundation set up by Alexander McQueen for emerging artists and creatives.
Evie experienced a creative turning point, resulting in these new works, rather unexpectedly. Preoccupied by the news, she found it “impossible” to carry on with her existing paintings, dropped everything and started responding to what she was seeing. “It was such an incredible moment in time to observe when the economic divide had never been more apparent and emotions were on a knife’s edge,” she says. It was the beginning of the pandemic, and Gal Gadot had just released the tone deaf video of numerous celebrities singing John Lennon’s Imagine which was comforting to absolutely no one. It became a catalyst for Evie, as the backlash provoked “some very necessary and long overdue conversations in questioning the people we aspire to, the values and morals of those in question and observing how much money can make you so unbelievably detached from society”.
Another event that informed Evie’s series was the misguided Instagram post courtesy of David Geffen which saw him sailing his $590 million yacht with the caption: “Isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus. I’m hoping everybody is staying safe.” As Evie puts it, these examples are a demonstration of those living in an illusory cocoon of wealth, and her paintings poignantly point this out. “I really wanted to zone in on this breeding ground of excess we’ve all played a part in, and the emptiness of aspiration. I think it would be a mistake to dismiss these actions as harmless or make excuses, that would be underestimating the reach these people have and how influential they are to so many.”
In What Will Become of Us, pools feature heavily. The artist deduces how it is more and more seen as a symbol of status. Kim Kardashian, for instance, said recently she’s never set foot in her pool. Instead, it is there purely for show, a mere decoration for the uber rich. Evie predominantly focuses on hotel pools, fascinated by the competitiveness of hotel culture, something she’s seen especially during art fairs. She tells us about Faena pool, one of the most decadent hotels in Miami Beach, a setting for a recent painting. In the painting, we are presented with a lone swimmer, floating in the chlorinated waters, surrounded by neat rows of sun beds and umbrellas. “The scene is idyllic, yet eerily empty,” she explains.
Elsewhere in the show, Evie addresses the role of private spaces and their popularity in the arts in Annabels, Mayfair. The impetus for the painting came from private members' clubs, something that is becoming increasingly normalised in the creative sector, something the artist finds “really sad” as “anything that creates a barrier for people accessing space to meet fellow creatives can never be a good thing”. She ends our interview on this thought provoking note, asking, “Why would we want to exclude anyone from this community?”
As for the future, Evie will be exhibiting with other Sarabande studio residents as part of an exciting group show in August.
GalleryEvie O’Connor: What Will Become of Us, Courtesy of Taymour Grahne Projects (Copyright © Evie O’Connor, 2021)
Evie O’Connor: What Will Become of Us, La Colombe d'Or, Courtesy of Taymour Grahne Projects (Copyright © Evie O’Connor, 2021)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.