Iconic Malibu rock artist opens Vegas gallery

The Knight Gallery exhibit will feature Jim Evans’ poster images of guitar god Jimi Hendrix and other famous rockers-a mash-up of electrifying photographic imagery reinterpreted through the psychedelic lens of pop graphic art.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Rock ‘n’ Roll, the saying goes, never dies. And if Malibu painter/guitarist/illustrator/graphic artist/Web designer and surfer dude Jim Evans has anything to say about it, it won’t fade away either.

Evans teamed with iconic rock photographers Robert Knight and his wife, Maryanne Bilham, to open a new photographic gallery at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel last weekend. At the site of what was once a gift concession for Barry Manilow tchotchkes, the rock chroniclers have opened the Knight Gallery, which is centered on their work of the past 30 years and a photographic tribute to music that has inspired the past two generations.

Evans has enjoyed a long and storied career embedded in the rock zeitgeist. Talented at graphic design, he created band logos and flyers before moving on to album sleeves and rock posters in a pre-Internet age when all anyone knew about their favorite artist was detailed on the cover of the latest LPs.

“I’ve always been fascinated by rock culture,” Evans said in a phone interview with The Malibu Times from his Las Vegas hotel, where he was preparing for the gallery opening. “I was lucky enough to be around with the advent of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones and the beginning of that whole pop culture universe.”

As a youth, Evans skipped classes at Oceanside High School to go surfing and play guitar in rock and roll bands before falling in with the early graphic design movement that discovered subversive comic strip artists like Robert Crumb. His work was published extensively in Surfer Magazine, the Los Angeles Free Press and other underground journals before he headed to the North Shore of Oahu to surf and attend rock concerts.

There he met Knight and discovered that the last leg of world tours by artists such as Elton John and Carlos Santana afforded remarkable accessibility to musicians ready to relax on the beach and hang with photographers. Evans took Knight’s images and turned them into rock poster art that came to define that psychedelic age.

Evans’ work was so compelling, he was hired to create album cover art for the likes of Robby Krieger of the Doors, The Beach Boys, The Allman Brothers, Chicago, Neil Young, Jan and Dean, and others.

The Knight Gallery exhibit will feature Evans’ poster images of guitar god Jimi Hendrix -a mash-up of electrifying photographic imagery re-interpreted through the psychedelic lens of pop graphic art.

“For the pieces we’re showing in Vegas, I took Robert’s photo and added a sort of lyrical rhythm to it,” Evans said. “Hal Leonard commissioned me to do Hendrix, and I wanted to create a narrative with it. So, for example, there’s one image that focuses on the whammy bar.”

Evans never met Hendrix, but saw him playing in concert plenty. He was at the legendary Monterey International Pop Music Festival when Hendrix famously set fire to his guitar, conjuring the flames upward as the startled audience watched, dumbfounded.

“At the Monterey festival, I knew it was amazing guitar playing, but I was too far away to see how he did it,” Evans said. “But I got to see him at the Fillmore right up close and I still can’t tell you how he did it. He played left-handed, but didn’t reverse the strings. He’d play a chord, but you wouldn’t even know if the guitar was tuned, it was so distorted. But it was mesmerizing.”

Evans’ work attracted such attention that he and Knight were commissioned to create silk-screened, monoprint portraits of artists like Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Billy Idol and even Dick Clark. Many of the portraits hang in various Guitar Centers around the country.

“I’ll take a photo I really like and blow it up to play with the dot pattern,” Evans said. “I’ll add color and make it a layered, tactile thing so that it’s more than just a photo. Instead of a weird, sort of dead time capsule of one rock moment, I’ll take it to the next level and make something pretty cool into something cooler, hopefully.”

Knight said he was “totally stoked” about the gallery opening with Evans and Bilham.

“Jim puts a lot of research into his portrait design,” Knight said. “He’s like an extreme version of Andy Warhol. He has the same understanding of pop culture, but Jim gives his work much greater depth. He infuses little details that give clues to the artist’s personality, so you have much more introspection.”

Evans and Knight are carrying their pop vibe to new territory with a fashion line called Rock Machine and will interpret their art into “anything that is wearable.”

“It will be fresh art with that same explosive vibe that rock brings to anything,” Evans said. “Rock is forever.”

More information on Knight Gallery can be found at www.knight-gallery.com

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