By Seth Combs, Contributor, San Diego Union Tribune
Textile artist Evan Tyler, in residency at Art Produce in North Park, found his artistic calling on a loom
Evan Tyler knew he was onto something. He’d been weaving and dyeing his own brand of textile-based art and was beginning to feel he was on the “right path” with his art, but he couldn’t help but feel he had one thing holding him back: He needed a better frame loom.
“This is the biggest type of weaving I could do at the time,” says Tyler, pointing to one of his earlier works in the studio space he’s currently working in at Art Produce, an art and performance space in North Park. “I was only making smaller pieces, but I wanted to do bigger pieces. I was watching all these videos and I saw a loom in a documentary and immediately started looking everywhere online.”
Still, new quality looms can cost thousands of dollars, and with pandemic demand and a backlogged supply chain, he knew his chances of finding one would be tough. He eventually found someone selling a frame loom online in September 2020, but it was located in Ventura.
“I was like, ‘How am I going to get this?’” recalls Tyler. “My mom, who I hadn’t seen in months because of the pandemic, told me, ‘If you really want it, I’ll pick it up and drive it down for you.’ It was in bad shape, but I cleaned it up and was so happy.”
Nearly two years after Tyler found that loom, he’s now set up at Art Produce, where he just started an artist residency. He’s sitting in a quaint studio space called the Cooler Room, where he will be creating some new pieces and have an open studio event on Aug. 6. On the wall are some of his woven pieces, vibrantly colored and more abstract in nature even while adhering to the intricate roots of the art form.
He continues his DIY, reverential education, using yarns dyed with natural materials and exploring what he calls “cultural anthropology through craft.” On a recent visit, there’s a stack of books that range from DIY how-to books to more anthropological texts devoted to indigenous arts. Tyler says it’s important to him to have his own unique style when it comes to weaving and fiber art, but that it’s also a medium that places an understandable amount of importance on reverence and respect for the art form’s forebears.
“You don’t want to be appropriative. I’ve been doing this for a few years and really immersed myself in it,” Tyler says, pointing to a book on weaving he bought at nearby Verbatim Books. “Different cultures will have a technique and many will have the same technique, but it’s called something else.”
One of the books among that stack in his studio is Tyler’s own notebook, which is filled with ideas for weavings. He says his process has evolved and that, when he first started out, he would simply “play with colors,” both in the dyeing and weaving aspects. He says he feels a sense of ancestral connection whenever he sits down at his loom.
“You can only learn from the past and try to interpret it in your own way,” Tyler says. “That’s honestly what I’m trying to do. It’s like a callback to the past, but you also want it to be current.”
Tyler shows me a sketch of one of the first pieces he wove, a hyper-colored hodgepodge that included all the colors he’d dyed with until that point. That sketch eventually turned into a statement on racial inequities. Tyler says it’s fair to call this piece, as well as accompanying pieces such as “Oxumaré / Self Reflection” and “Rainbow Golliwog,” part of a series of works exploring important themes.
His logic of finding inspiration in something established, but wanting to put his own spin on it, can be traced all the way back to his days growing up in Los Angeles. The soft-spoken Tyler says he’s always been a creative person but felt the sense that he was “copying,” even when he moved to San Diego and began taking art classes at San Diego State University.
“I always felt like I was just creating to get a grade. That’s what art became to me,” Tyler recalls of his time at SDSU. “I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing in school.”
After graduating in 2015, Tyler immediately began working and volunteering at local museums. Years went by and he hadn’t really created anything of his own, finding it difficult to feel creative after working multiple jobs and volunteer gigs. But it was at the Mingei Museum where he says his love of textiles really blossomed. He was working in the gift shop when he met Sarah Winston, the museum’s former manager of textiles.
“She’s a natural dyer and weaver, and I was always like, ‘Oh, I want to meet her,’” Tyler remembers. “At the time, she was the only other Black person in the museum, so when I was volunteering, I would sneak over to her desk and try to talk with her.”
Winston eventually invited Tyler over to her house to learn how to dye materials and became her assistant shortly after. He says that experience snowballed into the work he’s doing now.
“I never felt that confidence when I was painting, but when I began dyeing and weaving, it felt like I was coming home in a way,” says Tyler. “It felt familiar, like I was connecting with a past self and with past lives with all these different people and cultures throughout time who’ve done this.”
Tyler kept at it during the pandemic, using his time in lockdown to try out various techniques and patterns. He doesn’t mince words when he declaratively states that weaving saved his life.
“Oh, I tell people that all the time,” Tyler says. “If I didn’t have weaving during the pandemic, I don’t know what would have happened.”
He submitted some of these pieces to group shows and received positive feedback and a space on the wall. Tyler says it feels good to get recognition but is quick to point out he’d keep doing it even if no one took notice.
“I’m still trying to figure out if I’m an artist or a craftsperson or somewhere in the middle, but if I got no recognition from this, I’d still be doing it because it makes me happy,” Tyler says. “I’d just be weaving stuff for people I know. I just made a scarf for my mom.”
He’s already finished the pieces that will be included at his open studio at Art Produce and is using his residency to explore what he describes as a combination of weaving and free-form embroidery, a practice of needlework where stitching is used to convey an image on a piece of fabric. The practice has become popular with fiber artists and DIY enthusiasts, and while much of this type of work is cheeky or wholesome in nature, Tyler’s work is more abstract, and features swirls of hand-dyed color. It can take him 15 to 20 hours or one week to complete one piece. He now has a mantra: “Whenever you make art, it ought to be about something that matters.”
“I didn’t feel like I connected with anything I was creating when I painted. I felt kind of shallow,” Tyler says. “Getting accepted into those shows and this residency has made me say, ‘OK, this feels right.’ This is the path I’m supposed to be on.”
Evan Tyler (real name: Evan Scoggins)
Born: Los Angeles, California
Fun fact: Tyler had three weaving looms set up in his one bedroom apartment, which he dubiously shares with a cat. “He’s actually pretty good with the yarn,” Tyler says laughing. “I think he knows that it’s important to me so he doesn’t bother with it. But sometimes he’ll just put his little paw on it and look at me like, ‘I’m going to mess this up if you don’t give me attention.’”
Combs is a freelance writer.