by Simone Labuschagne
|Saving Everett, oil on canvas, 40" x 90", Steven Rhude|
SL: I've lived with you for over thirty years now, in cities, towns, and remote regions, seen a lot of your art go under the bridge, observed your creative process from afar and up close, modeled for you, painted with you, taught with you, criticized you when it was needed, and discussed and debated art with you for countless hours. However, I've never anticipated a painting like this coming from you - that is one depicting a murder scene. It seems, along with other things, the Maud Lewis legacy has preoccupied you for some time now, ever since your show at Acadia University Art Gallery with Laura Kenney https://laurakenneyhandhookedrugs.blogspot.com/.
So, tell me why did you make this painting?
SR: There are paintings that I want to do, and there are paintings that I have to do... I suppose Saving Everett falls into the latter category - it needed to be said.
SL: Ok, so what is it you are saying here... the title alludes to saving Everett... but I mean when I look at it there are three figures in the painting, one of them dead. Perhaps you could explain why?
SR: First I should explain that the whole thing is a tangled skein of small narratives making up one big narrative - the big one being the artistic and anti modernist legacy that Maud and Everett's life reflected, and which eventually influenced Nova Scotia's image/identity... and then how they have been reduced to token saints of a bygone era by the Art establishment. After the Acadia show with Laura Kenney, I was restless... people were asking and writing Laura and I to know if the show was going to travel, which was flattering but we both thought there was more to do; things needed to be pursued. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCLo4RcwJNE The story didn't stop when Maud died. It went on for another nine years until Everett was murdered. Naturally, this murder seems to be a touchy subject whenever Laura and I brought it up in public circles. Whenever we heard a public talk on Maud Lewis, the saving of Everett and his subsequent murder were never mentioned - it was always glossed over. That's when I thought it might be time to do a painting, if anything then just to set the record straight for myself.
|Detail, Stephen Wade|
So I went to meet with Reverend Stephen Wade, an Evangelical Christian, who encouraged Everett into a spiritual conversion only hours before he was killed. Talking with Stephen, and hearing his story convinced me to get on with the painting. The next question was how to do the painting. So, I needed to blend three circumstances together... Wade is the figure with his back to you, Everett is crouched over, suspended between the preacher's words and his own mortality. That's one. And then there is Everett's corpse next to the stove - that's two. The vanishing point is Maud's day bed. It too became black... as in she's dead but still haunts Everett; that's three. These circumstances became the eventual talking points of the painting. I recall viewing the house at the AGNS... peering in the door over the obstructive plexiglass, wondering how to fit all this in.
|Detail, Maud's Daybed|
SL: That is interesting and a powerful story of redemption and then a sudden and violent death. Shakespeare himself could not have written the narrative better. The painting is interesting in that you have compressed both time and the space. Did you intend for the viewer to feel the physical compression of the small house?
SR: Not at first, but it did seem to just fall into place. The whole thing is about mortality... Maud's, Everett's, the preacher's, and ours. What an amazing space to compress this narrative into. Usually I go through a prep study period of some drawings that give me a good idea where I'm going with a painting. As you know, I didn't do that here. Having the scene of the crime at my disposal was very helpful though. I went back to the AGNS and spent a lot of time with the house. Looking at it, contemplating it, photographing it inside an out, even listening in on conversations about it. It's known to be a tiny house, but it's also interesting how low the ceiling is and how it reflects and counters the busy imagery we confront on the walls and stove. I started thinking I would only do something of Everett's conversion with just the two figures, but when I got back home and looked at my source material of the house and spliced them together it comprised a kind of panorama, like you would see in a landscape painting. Then I knew I could incorporate the third figure. So the next thing was to model for Stephen Wade, Everett, and the corpse.
SL: You modeled for all three figures. The preacher is seen faceless and in black which is traditional, Everett is in a pose of remorse with his face in his hands. The face is certainly that of Everett Lewis. The murdered figure laying on the left of the painting is certainly either dead or severely wounded. We know from the story that he died that night. So, although Everett is showing remorse as he sits with the preacher, how are you depicting his redemption through this scene?
SR: Everett's redemption... hmm, he wouldn't set foot in a church and was illiterate. Reading the bible was out of the question. So his hands are up to his head - blocking out everything but Wade's words and prayers. I'm no theologian, but Stephen Wade believed everyone has a void. In the interview he said to me: "We try to fill them with temporary things. For Everett it was money, greed, even vengeance, but God put the void there and God is the only one that can fill it." If redemption is suggested in the painting... and it may or may not be depending on the viewer, then it pertains most likely to the narrative supplied by Stephen Wade. Generally, his words are such that the post religious man isn't interested in hearing them anymore. Ironically though, whether one is religious or not, he makes a good point about humanity.
|Human Cross Section, Uof T Anatomy Museum, graphite, 24" x 18", Steven Rhude|