Studies in Desperation: A Suite by Connor Everts

Studies in Desperation, Connor Everts’s lithographic suite produced at the end of 1963, reflects the charged events of that tumultuous year—the United States’s involvement in Vietnam, the protests and calls for civil rights and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Everts’s use of violent imagery and gruesome nature imparts a desperation regarding the social issues of the time: partially formed figures tear and writhe; a limb becomes a torso, a phallus, a finger; rib bones break the surface as teeth gnaw on vertebrae; shadowy forms retreat and emerge from dark caves; forms are mangled and difficult to distinguish.

As an artist, a teacher and one of the founders of the Los Angeles Printmaking Society, Everts has been an influential figure in the Southern California art community for many years. Born in Bellingham, Washington, he spent most of his childhood moving from one seaport town to another following his father’s career as a farmer, labor unionizer and longshoreman—a path Everts would later emulate until an industrial accident ended his employment as a port worker. This early exposure to the sympathies of labor organization may have led Everts to focus and comment on social issues through his artwork.

After his peripatetic beginnings, Everts studied at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and then left to continue at the University of Washington, where he was first introduced to printmaking. After completing his undergraduate education in Mexico, he returned to Southern California. A brief stint teaching at the San Fernando Valley College led him back to Chouinard, this time as an instructor. There he cultivated the graphic arts program and soon became chairman of the department.

In 1957, Everts started Exodus Gallery in San Pedro, where the Studies in Desperation lithographs were created. More than just an exhibition space, Exodus served as a place for the member-artists of the gallery to have access to etching and lithography presses. Around this same time, Everts established his own imprint, the Quiet Sun Press, which continued into the mid-1960s.

Everts’s Studies in Desperation played an important role in the debate over the right of artistic expression. While the artworks were on exhibition at Zora Gallery, the L.A. District Attorney filed charges of obscenity against Everts, owing to the imagery depicted in the series. The artist was arrested, and the case was brought to court. The first trial was dismissed in a hung jury. After a second trial, the artist was finally acquitted in 1965. This verdict and the support Everts received from the L.A. art community set a precedent for the freedom of expression for artists.

In a 2003 interview, Everts reflected on his Studies in Desperation series: “I was thinking about the state of the world and the view of the world from the womb. What if someone looked out from the womb and decided not to be born until it was a better world?”

Studies in Desperation: A Suite by Connor Everts honors the 50th anniversary of the suite’s creation, the spirit it represented and the impact that this artist and his series had on the art world in Los Angeles.