Kevin Jerome Everson was born in Mansfield, OH, and has degrees from Akron University (BFA) and Ohio University (MFA). He is a Professor of Art at the University of Virginia. Everson has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Academy Rome. He has been awarded residencies at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and others. Everson’s films have shown at the Sundance Film Festival, the Rotterdam Film Festival, and too many additional ones to list here. His exhibitions and screenings include the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; REDCAT, Los Angeles; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio; the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Wurttenbergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart, to name a few. Craig Drennen met Everson at Ohio University and remains one of the few people who ever remember seeing him paint.
Craig Drennen: Thanks for agreeing to this interview. You and the Whitney go way back. I remember going to the “Black Male: Representation of Masculinity in Contemporary Art” exhibition opening with you back in 1994. In 2008 you were selected for the Biennial, then in 2012 you were selected for a second Biennial. Can you describe these different experiences showing at the Whitney? Were the two biennials you’ve been in handled differently?
Kevin Jerome Everson: I also had a solo show at the Whitney in the spring/summer of 2011. It’s been an honor to be in the biennials. It’s big stuff around here at the UVA as well around the country. The biennials are supposed to be a barometer of what’s going on in art today. It’s really a vision of the curator. In 2008 it was Henriette Huldisch’s vision for the films. In 2012 it was Ed Halter and Thomas Beard. Anyway, they were two very different biennials, at least for my concerns. In ‘08 I had a short film, Emergency Needs (2007, 7:00), which screened everyday at 11:20 a.m. I’m not sure if anyone saw it. Hell, you couldn’t get out of your coat until 11:30 a.m. In 2012 it felt more like a high-end film festival than a museum show. Films ran for a week at the museum. My Quality Control (2011, 70:00) screened the last week of May. The show was for NYC-ers. Folks I knew who were at the Whitney in like April were asking me where my work was. I had to tell them, “in May.” If you didn’t live in NYC it was hard to see the film. Anyway it was all good.
CD: I remember you back when you used to show photography and sometimes even a painting or sculpture. You’re now known for your work in film. Do you think that museums have gotten better at showing film work within exhibition contexts?
KJE: Well I’m still showing films like screenings. The Whitney solo show was cool cuz I had about 17 films playing for months on four walls. That was cool as hell. I got a lot of traffic. Mostly, I show in screening rooms at certain dates and times. I dig having art on the walls. All artists want is as much traffic as possible.
CD: You’ve shown frequently in Europe. Have European responses to your work differed significantly from those in the U.S.?
KJE: Oh yeah. In Europe I’m known as an American artist. So they are seeing me, and my work as an American artist. In the U.S., black America is a foreign country to the ruling class of liberal white folks. I’m hit with the dumbest questions in every city. North Americans—I’m speaking super general—have perceptions about black Americans, especially if they have to sit in the dark for more than an hour watching them. It messes with their heads.
CD: Can you say anything else about that?
KJE: Shit I don’t know. I’d rather not talk about the ruling class muthaphuckas. Oh well maybe. When images or sound or anything that is not what they’ve perceived, I’m hit with responses of “I feel alienated”. I guess they feel excluded. You have to ask them why.
CD: You’ve made over 70 short films and 5 feature-length films, and you’re still a reasonably young man. How do you do it?
KJE: I’ve made about 100 shorts and 6 features. Your question is three weeks old, man! I treat film like any other art. I want to create an art exhibit or a body of work. I have to exercise formal qualities so it takes several films to express what I’m doing. I think it comes from being a fine art photographer; I have to create a body of work. Plus, I don’t have a life.
CD: I interviewed you back in 1994 for an online magazine that quickly went under. I wish I had a copy of that interview, but I do remember that you claimed that your favorite film of all time was Melvin Van Peebles’ Watermelon Man (1970). Is that still your favorite?
KJE: Hell yeah. That film is awesome. It’s one of my top ten art objects. That’s Melvin’s best work. Watermelon Man takes you on a ride.
The following are image stills from works by Kevin Jerome Everson. Courtesy of the artist.
Craig Drennen is an artist based in Atlanta, GA.
Visit Drain Magazine for an extensive look at films by Kevin Jerome Everson in the current issue Black.