by Erika Solberg
Teacher Tracy Inman’s Humanities class had a special visitor yesterday when alum Evvie Cooley (SCATS 2014-15, VAMPY 2016-17) of Louisville stopped by to display and discuss a yearlong art project she had recently completed. The Humanities course, which explores the concept of the afterlife by analyzing the changing interpretations and philosophies of different generations, cultures, and times, became the impetus for her project after she took the class at VAMPY last year.
Evvie began her discussion by noting one of the key concepts she had learned: “When you view the world through religion, you have a better understanding of it. A lot of art through the ages is religious, so when I had to choose a subject for my project, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.” The course’s influence was clear in her work, including a drawing of a canopic jar like she the one she had decorated during the course and a depiction of one of the circles of hell from Dante, whom she had read last summer.
Evvie briefly discussed all of her 25 pieces, which were arranged on the front board of the classroom. She seemed to enjoy speaking to an audience that understood many of the ideas she had explored. She said, “I’m sure you’ve learned how important circles are. Through many cultures and religions, we see circles — it comes back to the idea of literal wholeness.” Much of her art used circles, including the first piece she had created, a square of black paint covered in circles she added with a glue gun. She also made a piece inspired by wavelengths because “they go along with circles. Atoms can be observed as wavelengths — every bit of matter is a wave length that comes from a circle.”
One central idea Evvie stressed is the universality of the concept of religion. She loves the idea that “people around the world with no connection can still come to similar beliefs about the afterlife.” For instance, in her depiction of the Celtic knot of death, she notes that “you see these reoccurring themes that should be impossible. The fact that so many religions use the ideas of circles and energy transference is beautiful and super interesting to me.”
She also talked about her love of the strange and the uncertain and said her favorite way to make art is when “I get to be absurd and expressive and experiment. What I love about the afterlife is you can insert any belief into it — you are what you believe.” Her works include a drawing of a person being scooped up by a UFO after death and a representation of a Buddhist version of hell: a cube buried underground and filled with fire that represents cleansing.
“Whatever convictions you hold about what happens after we die,” Evvie said, “you can’t say ‘my way is right’ because no one knows for sure.” One of her abstract pieces was inspired by Hieronymus Bosch, much of whose work depicts religious concepts in abstract and absurd ways.
At the end of her talk, she took questions from the students, one of whom was her sister, Josie Cooley of Louisville, who asked about Evvie’s personal beliefs about the afterlife. Evvie answered, “I’m happy saying I don’t know. I like to think it has some form of redemption and bliss. Maybe the afterlife is like plopping down on the couch after a long day. It’s fun to believe in things, so why not?”
When Cayce Jones of Versailles asked her if she ascribed to any religious beliefs, Evvie explained, “My mom is a Unitarian Universalist minster, so I grew up in a church that encourages figuring things out on your own. When I asked my mom what God was, she told me, ‘God is energy. God is love.’”
Those concepts, energy and love, are both present in Evvie’s work. When describing the various media she used for her project she noted, “Painting, for me, is one of the most expressive media because you can see the brushstrokes— you can see the energy I put into it.” For her audience, the love she puts into her art is also evident.