these artists made a list of every possession they own

Former pro-skateboarder Simon Evans and illustrator Sarah Lannan obsessively catalog the scraps of every day life, making art from subway maps, Post-it Notes, and even sweat stains.

by Sarah Moroz
16 March 2016, 2:35pm

Photography Kristine Larsen

"This show was super fun to put together," remarks Sarah Lannan. "I was allowed to smoke and drink inside the museum in order to make marks on the white carpet." She's referring to the exhibition on view at Paris' Palais de Tokyo, "Not Not Knocking on Heaven's Door" — a winking reference to Guns 'N Roses, and "also a reference to these wicked religious times we live in," her partner Simon Evans chimes in. "Not to mention the embarrassingly emo streak that runs through our art."

Simon Evans is the moniker of the duo of self-taught artists: it encompasses English-born Simon Evans (background: professional skateboarder and short-story writer) and American-born Sarah Lannan (background: illustrator). The two lived and worked in Berlin before setting up shop in New York. Their collaborative pieces — for which they won the Prix Canson in 2014 — are textured and tongue-in-cheek. Woven, drawn, glued, listicled, collaged: they are palimpsests in which materiality is felt and humor is sharply deployed. They braid paper into thumbtacks and hearts and pills and bombs that looks like mid-90s computer graphics. They origami Abraham Lincoln's face on the five-dollar bill alongside instructions for "How to Succeed in America." They revamped a map of Paris by rechristening every metro stop with titles of ironic amour ("I love Justin Bieber," "I love acquaintance barbecues"). Absolutely everything in the exhibition is hand-scrawled, from the image captions to the introductory text. We talked to the duo about the obsessive nature of creation, the Berlin art scene, and foraging for "street booty."

To start: why "Simon Evans" for you both? Does the name reflect that Simon has more input or guides things more definitively?
Sarah: Our duo is called Simon Evans — we add a "TM" — because I came into his work as a temporary visitor, and ended up starting a new life there unexpectedly. I'm not sure either of us guides anything definitively... we are equally insecure about everything.
Simon: Sarah improved everything and made it different too. The name is like Woolworth's to me.

Companion (2010), courtesy James Cohan

How did you come to work collaboratively?
Simon: As soon as we met we stuck to each other. I work constantly and so does she. I noticed one day we had become braided.
Sarah: We started working together in 2007, I think. We had just moved to Germany, and we barely knew each other. We love working and wanted to hang out all the time. I fell in love with him through art, for sure. Before Simon, I was really searching still. I made a blunder of being an illustrator. I thought I really didn't want to make "fine art"… my mom and stepdad are artists, and it was annoying growing up in that world. What I was actually doing was trying to make art, but avoiding the reality of it.

What does it mean to work as a pair? Do you have set roles based on respective strengths, or are you filling different roles all the time?
Simon: I don't know exactly what our roles are... We invent each other all the time.
Sarah: We have studios that are on separate floors of our house. We work in both, and we move desks and chairs around... We take turns being good at writing emails, doing tedious work, drawing, whatever; we each pick up the slack for the other, when one goes toe up from overworking.

Everything I Have (2008), courtesy James Cohan

Having lived in Berlin for several years, do you think art in Europe is different in any way than art in the US — either in terms of your own context of production, or the reception of your work?
Sarah: It's hard to tell you how now (it's been five years since we left), but I think that it's different for sure. Europe is yogurt and clean air with sexuality. In Berlin I remember walking into big galleries with art that you had to have read books to "get." To me, this is lame — but, conversely, seeing fashion displayed as abstract painting kills me too. In New York, everyone takes Adderall to build the pyramids. We are still trying to force ourselves out of the house.
Simon: It's beastly and unfair in New York. It's such an ambition trap. I dream of living in Europe now. Arts are everywhere, but in New York, it's more like looking at album covers.

Text is a crucial part of your pieces. Have you always seen the visual potential of text?
Sarah: I don't think ALWAYS, but often is accurate. I don't know how anyone couldn't see the visual potentials of text…
Simon: It used to be just words, then it was just drawings, and then it was both. Image and text are easy dancing; composition and information. It's how the world looks. Why not do both? I'm not a purist sicko, so I'm allowed to.

A lot of the text is handwritten... Who has better handwriting of the two?
Sarah: Depends on your definition of better.
Simon: Don't know and don't care (or I say I don't).

Symptoms of Loneliness (2009), courtesy James Cohan

You use found objects. How do you know the potential of something you come across?
Sarah: We pick up trash off the sidewalk and we call it "street booty." If it's beautiful, or funny, or it's something specifically useful — like now, I'm making an orange picture, and so anything orange gets picked up…

There's a tendency to categorize — stains, personal objects, mix CDs. What role does obsession play in your art?
Simon: Categorizing is what humans do, and obsession is what is involved in anything you're passionate about. I like the typical repetition of rituals, of punishment and worship, jogging laps, or doing yantras. It's a beautiful cartoon of futile human acts. When working, I prefer to riff in a picture, so I don't have to wear myself out with drastic choices, or be scared to be brave.Sarah: People surprise me when they comment on the obsessive qualities of the work… I can only add that it doesn't feel obsessive.

Stains (2014), courtesy James Cohan

There's a very present thematic thread of urban living in your pieces: references to New York, re-imagined maps of Paris and London. How much does the metropolis inspire you — or annoy you — into being creative?
Sarah: Cities are so much fun. I shaved my head when I was 16 at a barber's school in Harlem with my best friend. It's hard to think in cities but that's because you're not meant to. Let everything in your pores and holes. Volunteer your consciousness to the collective. Just joking.

What projects do you have coming up?
Sarah: Making some more pictures, building rubber band balls, going to the dentist (oh fuck), and hopefully magically someone in Japan will ask us to have a show.


Text Sarah Moroz

Palais de Tokyo
art interviews
sarah lannan
simon evans