Pam Evelyn is a London-based painter. A recent graduate from the Royal College of Art, unpredictable, shifting patterns spreading across her canvases have sparked interest from major international galleries. With a unique approach to abstraction that draws inspiration from landscape to figurative imagery, Evelyn’s remarkable self-reflection and frankness build layers onto monumental canvases. Although the young artist draws inspiration from masters like Turner and Courbet, the originality of her works stems from a deep sense of curiosity and inquisition of her surroundings and her psyche. Earlier this month, we sat down with Pam to take a deeper dive into her approach when painting and explore her thoughts on the contemporary art scene.

Pam in her East London studio. Image courtesy of Michal Brzezinski

LVH: Your work refuses to be labelled in just one category; they could be abstract, figurative or landscape. Do you think contemporary painting can even be defined by these broad categories, given that the lines between genres and styles have become so blurred?

PE: I think artists have always been stubborn with labels or categories. I have been reading Jennifer Higgies’ book ‘The Other Side: A Journey into Women, Art and the Spirit World’, and she uncovers many mischievous unorthodox makers that were impossible to categorise or who were simply unfashionable to include. The terms have uses but would inhibit any painter if taken too literally. 

You can’t help but make a reference as soon as your hand makes a mark. Painting is dense with history; it is fundamental to human evolution. Even after just one day in the studio, the results can lead you to indulge and go off on many tangents. Mediating between play and awareness is how painting can transcend its formal qualities. Although sometimes you feel like banging your head against a wall, you find a realisation in the work that goes beyond a category or style. 

It is about critical awareness. I really value self doubt- it can be a tricky place to occupy but I think any “style” of painting, or attitude, is lifeless when lacking conviction as well as self criticism. And you see less and less criticism in art writing. The pressures from the market encourage this almost estate agent attitude to paintings, like it’s some sort of production line. You can see the paintings that cater to this.

LVH: You are an active user of Instagram, which seems to be an important tool for many young painters these days. How has your relationship to social media shaped the early stages of developing your career?

PE: During covid, social media was crucial as I wasn’t in London- because of instagram my conversation with other painters wasn’t severed completely. Now, I use it more to see what shows are happening around London and also to stay in touch with artists in more remote locations. I haven’t been posting on it as much as I did before; I needed a break. I was able to slow down on my social presence and this is just as important, in protecting the studio.

I met Russell and Rob from TalkArt through instagram, and from this we did an episode together. I had been a bit of a hermit, but they stirred enthusiasm in the studio. They are inquisitive and considered. Last week I had Russell over in my London studio. He has a real way of looking, observing followed by comments or questions that activate everything. Instagram does have unavoidable importance, but the phone is turned off when I am painting. It can be very attractive when the canvas gets tricky, but I also see it as a huge disadvantage. It is noticeable when a painting has been rushed, or lacks real investigation and focus. 

LVH: Your paintings are large-scale and often exist across multiple panels. You have mentioned that while you paint, you will switch the panels around or even remove them, almost as an act of “self-sabotage”. Why do you think that the act of destruction is key to your process of creation?

PE: Unfortunately I do have to go through long periods where my work needs resuscitating or salvaging. I try to avoid doing this every time, and always feel like there is no hope when it happens. It’s an internal and external struggle. It sometimes feels like grasping in the dark. It’s when I come out of this testing period with the painting that I realise the significance. Eventually painters become very precise - painters in their fifties upwards can hold this unnerving directness; an unquivering application. I see this when I look at Alex Katz. Other painters can have it at a young age - Helen Frankenthaler possesses a bold touch. Same goes for Tim Stoner, a London-based painter whose shows have always been significant. These painters dedicated their life to arrive with such precision and determination. And while I aim for this, I also like to trip myself up. It can’t feel too easy, the struggle and chase is also what makes it so painfully irresistible.

Pam Evelyn, Civil Dawn, 2021. Image courtesy of The Approach gallery

LVH: As one of the central figures in the newest generation of London painters, what do you think is inspiring young artists in Britain the most these days? 


PE: It is interesting, the climate for young artists is tough. We pay for our education amidst a living crisis and art education is largely becoming more corporate and career focused. Yet painting is back. I like to think that there is resistance and a hunger in my generation to use painting that elicits raw, unedited, sensitive, poetic and vulnerable states. While everything is being airbrushed and has a face lift, painting encourages the absolute opposite. Creating quiet or loud reactions like this in the world is culturally and politically important. In paint anything can happen - as de Kooning said to Philip Guston, “there are no rules”. 

LVH: What has been your experience navigating opportunities post-graduation? Do you have any plans to be represented by a gallery? 

PE: There has been a lot of interest and this didn’t come overnight. This has been so significant in motivating me to continue and take more risks. I have been prioritising the studio- keeping studio visits minimal as I adjust and nurture a focus that I avoid disrupting. I have a show coming up in September with Pace London. Currently I am not represented by a gallery but exciting conversations are going on.

Pam at her residency in Cornwall. Image Courtesy of Alban Roinard

LVH: You have a solo show at Pace Gallery this September in London, can you speak about this exhibition and the motivation behind it?

PE: To be ambitious, indulge and to allow the paintings to emotionally expand. The paintings that will feature in the show have been made over nine months, some during my time in Anchor Studio Newlyn and recently in my London studio. It has been a very intense period of painting. During my time in Anchor I did not have any shows lined up, so I was making a large body of work to see where I could take things. During this time, painters like Turner, Courbet, Bridget Riley and Alfred Wallace were all references I often turned to. Each painter contained nature within their mark very distinctly, and you could see how the sea enchanted out these visions. 

Now I find myself back in London where I sit within the white walls of my studio. The painting caves in on itself. The once expansive notes drawn when looking out at the world change in nature. They become more psychological, more in touch with the paintings' own reality and physics. It commands itself- a personality is formed from within and built upon. The white walls offer little interaction or distraction. I find myself alone caught up in emblematic self realised forms.

'Hidden Scene' is a key painting that has informed the Pace show. It holds an awkwardness- I became fascinated with disruption in communications, relationships and views. This painting offers little resolution. Instead, the panels hide and disrupt a totality of a painting. I like to think this makes anyone looking realise that painting isn’t all about finding answers and presenting them. Hidden in every decision are more questions. I also noticed that within great gaps, the imagination runs riot. Lines of enquiry tease and entice the inquisitive, restless mind. Voids in life are uncomfortable and our instinct is to inform and fill for some sense of sanity, and Hidden Scene sits stubbornly in between. 

Pam Evelyn, Hidden Scene, oil on linen, 3 panels, 321 x 117 cm each, 2022 © Pam Evelyn

LVH: Do you have any other projects in 2023 lined up?

PE: My main priority is taking long periods with the work in the studio while potential projects are being discussed. 

Pam's solo show at Pace Gallery, London will open this September.