Fred Eversley has dedicated his five-decade career to abstract sculptural meditations on energy. Working in Venice Beach since the early 1970s, Eversley drew upon his experience as an engineer and elements of the Light and Space movement prevalent in Southern California at the time to develop the lens-like parabolic objects for which he is best known. The survey exhibition “Fred Eversley: Reflecting Back (the World),” on view through January 15, 2023, at the Orange County Museum of Art, provides an occasion to reflect on the work of the octogenarian artist, who recently relocated to New York City, and to take stock of his role as a pioneering West Coast figure. Here, Eversley discusses the long arc of his luminary, ongoing practice.
MY WORK IS ALL ABOUT ENERGY. My basic shape, the one I have worked with for over fifty years, is the parabola. The parabola is the one and only shape that is the perfect concentrator of all forms of energy. It reflects all forms of energy—light, heat, sound—identically to a single focal point. Whatever cosmic energy there is that might be bouncing around would react in the same way. So playing with and pushing the boundaries of the parabola has been the focus of my work for decades.
I learned about the parabola very early on in a popular mechanics magazine when I was a teenager. It was Newton who did an experiment of spinning a bucket of water on the vertical axis of a rope and creating a parabolic surface. This principle was then employed by astronomers in laboratories to make the technology for a telescope, using a spinning can of mercury to make a perfect parabola. When I was fourteen or so, I went down into my father’s basement and poured Jell-O into a pie pan rotating on a phonographic turntable and it formed a parabola which cast light, like mercury would. The parabola has been with me, been the core of my life’s work, since then really. Even before I made art, I was an engineer and designed high-intensity acoustical laboratories for NASA Houston, for the Gemini and Apollo space missions, so I was also dealing with and understanding energy then. My commitment and focus over all these years stems from my belief that energy is the source of everything in the world. Nothing exists without energy. It’s the most essential concept for the basis of all life. So I just tried to push that idea as far as I can. Given the state of the world now—from the climate crisis to extreme oil and gas shortages—the significance of energy as a concept and material is apparent.
Most of my works derive from energy concentration on a parabolic surface. For the smaller works, I use a modified turntable with a variable speed motor on it, and a handmade mold to make a whole range of pieces. I’ve always cast and then polished them myself. The polishing is the majority of the work, actually: That’s when the color and the reflective quality come out. The lens has a fisheye effect, so you can see yourself in the work. I always work with the relationship between the viewer and the object, and the connection between what surrounds the viewer and what surrounds the object. My work makes this energetic interconnectivity material. Toward the end of my time in my studio in Venice, I started to explore new dyes and pigments. Since moving to New York in 2019, I have continued to experiment with new colors that have different saturations and intensities and create new chromatic effects. To make any work larger than twenty inches in diameter, I use two enormous cast-iron turntables that I bought at an auction in the 1970s. I found out that these were the turntables used to machine the casings of the atomic bombs that fell on Japan.
My show at the Orange County Museum of Art, my fourth show there, covers fifty years of work in a relatively compact space. That was a challenge, but was also interesting, because the show comes full circle in some ways to my first exhibition there in 1976, when it was still called the Newport Harbor Art Museum. I showed several recent polyester lenses in these new radiant colors juxtaposed with examples of my historical lenses that are all variations of violet, amber, and blue in various sizes and shapes, and also mirror the reflective black lens and large black rocker in OCMA’s collection. The smallest sculptures in that show, from 1968, were my first spun-cast three-color, three-layer cylindrical cuts, a shape which I’ve recently started enlarging into sculptures that are more than ten feet tall. This scaling-up was something I was thinking about even then and attempted to do a few times back in the late ’70s. Now I’m working with an outside fabricator to manufacture these large-scale tapered cylindrical lens sculptures in transparent resin materials—we’ve made three so far. It’s a totally different optical phenomena from the round parabolic lenses. So showing one of these new seven-foot sculptures in Orange County makes the show feel like both a leap and a loop.
You get up every morning, and every day is a new day. In terms of—everything. I’m lucky enough to be in a position now, in my life, where possibilities are more open than they’ve ever been to try something new. The new series of large-scale works gives viewers a full corporeal dimension that can be experienced outdoors with a radiant color spectra and a radical interaction with their surroundings. I am currently developing this shape and exploring this material capacity further for a large, site-specific public commission, which feels grander than the public commissions I’ve made in the past. I’ve had the great luxury of making art one hundred percent of my time for over fifty years, of showing with wonderful galleries and museums. I really do have the feeling that the possibilities are endless.
— As told to Camila McHugh