The painter Philip Evergood (1901-1973) was a sort of saintly zany. His art wears funny hats; his colors roar and bleep; his exaggerated signature, a cartoon of John Hancock's, it wobbly and huge. Many hate his art.
They cannot forgive his fumbling. Offended by his clumsiness they cannot see his compassion. A sigh of love, a sob of pain, can be heard behind his clowning. He painted from the heart.
He did not imitate or cheat. He did not bend to fashion. His art is full of people, those he saw and dreamed. Few of them are beautiful; few of them are heroes. He said, "The symbol of the underdog has been my bundle and my banner." His art does not look down.
Joseph H. Hirschhorn, a collector unafraid of the raucous and the playful, has been buying Evergoods since 1943. A selection of those he gave the nation will be on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden through Oct. 8.
Despite their nasty colors, their heavy-handed outlines, these works are not naive. Instead they have a sense of sophistication thrown away, elegance unlearned.
Evergood, unlike Hirshhorn, had a childhood of privilege. Though he was a New Yorker, born on 23rd Street, Evergood, at 6, was sent to school in England. He went to Stubbington, then Eton, then to Trinity Hall, Cambridge. But you do not sense that patrician schooling in his pictures. There are barefoot children, bums, young workers and old ladies - but no thin-nosed aristocrats - in his jarring, heartfelt art.
When Evergood was young, his drawing meticulous (he studied at the Slade after leaving Cambridge), and though he later painted nymphs and birds and seashells - he once portrayed his wife as a wind-blown Aphrodite rising from the waves - he early fought the polish of acedemic art.
His father was a painter of impressionist landscapes. "I wonder sometimes if my father's passionate concern with nature, with the trees, the sky, the rocks and the sea, did not spark some kind of revolt directing me toward the harder facts of life."
He liked the blues of Leadbelly; he liked to talk to bums. "A significant experience and one which . . . in fact, affected the whole of my future life happened in New York about 1932. I spent the whole night talking with the homeless Hooverville jungle dwellers near West Street and Christopher, in an empty lot. . . . The name of one was 'Old Foot,' because on foot was always tired; another was named 'Terrapin,' because he had killed and eaten turtles in his youth. . . . Some of the best drawings that I have ever made were done that night."
He was, as were so many artists of the '30s, a sort of social realist; his politics were left, but his paintings do not preach. He did not hate the rich. When Joe Hirshhorn invited him to Canada in 1943 ("You will be riding with some real bloated millionaires, one who is the fourth richest man in America"), Evergood went along.
His work is never cool. One feels an eerie mix of passion, laughter and concern blazing in his art.
"Lines of Vision: Recent Latin American Drawings (1967-1976)," the current exhibition at the Inter-American Development Bank, 801 17th Street N.W., is the most impressive group show of modern Latin art this city has yet seen.
Too many Latin paintings seem airless, somehow clogged. But the drawings on display here are full of light and air. The draftsmanship is confident and occasionally amazing (in Claudio Bravo's life-sized goat, every hair can be seen). It is as if these artists, weighted down by painting, have in the act of drawing found a way of breaking free.
There are nearly 100 drawings here, by as many artists from 15 Latin countries. Still, some shared attitude, a mood, is apparent in this show. The finest works are figurative (most of the abstractions seem somehow borrowed, thin), and most of them have a dark and bitter feeling, a shadow of suffering and pain. At the same time something fabulous, magical, fantastic, rises from the darkness that runs throughout this show.
Selected by Barbara Duncan, it is being circulated by the International Exhibitions Foundation. The literature of Latin America is recently receiving long overdue attention. Perhaps the same will happen now to the newest Latin art. The show remains on view through Aug. 31.
"Four Primitive Painters from Jamaica" is now showing here at the O.A.S., 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. The term "naive" is more in fashion now, but the pictures on display have all of the intensity, power and fire that "primitive" suggests.
This is not art for tourists. It is not sweet or charming. One can almost smell the darkness of Jamaican vegetation in the thousand shades of green, some shadowed and some sun-bright, that flickers here.
Both Everald Brown and Clinton Brown, his son, are Rastafarian priests. Their works are full of signs - eyes shine in the heavens, the air is dense with music, and half-seen in the foliage of Everald Brown's "Duppy Family" are dozens of part-human shapes that may be plants or leaves, but are most likely ghosts.
Kapo (Bishop Mallica Reynolds) has a more idyllic vision. His angels bless the viewer; his trees are full of oranges and lemons; and in his rushing rivers, nymphs are splashing happily amid foamy clouds of white. The fourth artist, Sidney McLaren, is now approaching 80. Trained as a carriage-maker and put out of business by the car, he now portrays the details - the bicycles, the light poles, the people and the shops - of the island he loves.This energetic, pleasing show closes Sept. 8.