The Art of Evie Zimmer: Therapy for the Civilized Mind


The artist, Evie Zimmer, is masterful with therapeutic art. With anxiety and depression ever more rapidly on the rise in our modern, Western society, the treatment might be easily found at the art gallery. We do not necessarily need to leave the comfort of civilization to head to the wilderness or the beach. Art is distinctly a remedy for what ails you, not taken into the body orally or intravenously, but visually.

Were I to discuss her work on a purely analytical level, I would compare its abstraction to the flowers of Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) and its emotional impact to the works of Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). The comparison to O’Keeffe is simple enough when you consider Zimmer’s recent painting, “Easter Lilies:” You can see the same flowing movement and colour blending that O’Keeffe uses in her own paintings such as “White Sweet Peas” (1926) and “Pink Sweet Peas” (1927). Honestly, however, Zimmer takes the effects of O’Keeffe’s work a step further because Zimmer offers greater clarity in her images, however abstract they may be, and a greater sense of depth on her canvases. While you can certainly feel the delicate softness of the petals of O’Keefe’s flowers, in Zimmer’s, you can also feel the space behind and in the midst of the flowers.

Here are some Georgia O’Keeffe paintings with the main feature Jack in the Pulpit series as discussed in the next paragraph.

In contrast with O’Keeffe’s work, Zimmer’s offers a feeling of simplicity to the viewer, despite the very complex design work she employs. This is something I’ll discuss in greater detail later, but her work is actually far more elaborate, detailed and arduously executed than O’Keeffe’s, who seems always to look to simplify the subjects of her work. Her “Jack-in-the-Pulpit” series of 1930 dramatizes this trend. O’Keeffe begins her series by painting the entire flower with petals and leaves. As the series progresses through its six images, O’Keeffe moves in closer to the flower itself, and the canvases become progressively darker and more brooding until, in the sixth painting of the series, she paints only the Jack in a simple, sombre and sulking composition. Zimmer doesn’t work this way; her paintings have a simplicity of their own to experience. Her work tricks the viewer. Her art is so elaborate, so cunningly crafted that an educated viewer is fooled into believing that it is created through some simple sleight of hand or computer software—the proverbial attention to detail is that far beyond remarkable. It doesn’t make O’Keeffe a lesser artist; I merely point out the distinction between two types of “simplicity.”

Evie Zimmer, Raspberry Cocoa Oil on Canvas 12x12, 2015
Evie Zimmer, Raspberry Cocoa Oil on Canvas 12×12, 2015

Before I elaborate on the Kandinsky connection with Zimmer, let me discuss this pesudo simplicity in Zimmer’s work in greater detail, and explore how she deceives her own viewers in the finest possible way. When you contemplate one of her paintings that is more typical of Zimmer’s style, such as “Raspberry Cocoa,” you get an immediate sense of delighted whimsy, as if Zimmer had purposly spilt a number of pigments on the canvas, mixed in some substance to prevent them from blending, then used her finger to mix the pigments in a random design, the way a baker might use a knife to combine colours in a pattern in the frosting of a cake. There is that kind of feel to Zimmer’s work–the colourful sun-lighted oil slick in a water puddle feel; that’s the idea of Zimmer’s style. And yet, when you watch her create, when you see her process, when you understand the hours of meticulous labour and consider the challenge, the time, the effort of painstakingly imitating the sense of caprice and randomness, when you imagine the irony and the paradox of such an elaborate, brilliant, charming hoax with the knowledge that Evie Zimmer is clearly, certainly no fraud as an artist, then you comprehend, on the most simple level, the magnificence of Evie Zimmer’s canvas creations. The viewer is duped into believing that there must be some simple technique behind the creative imagery. They buy into the whimsey, and are utterly blinded to the truth of the skill, effort and patience it must take to be such an artist, and yet, not one is able to assert, “My five-year-old could do that.” As though reacting to the skill of a magician, the view of Zimmer’s work asks, “How the (%#@^&* can anyone do that?!” Evie Zimmer complex design work in her art make her the duplicitous master of the illusion of simplicity.

Evie Zimmer, The Big Spin Oil on Canvas 30x30, 2012
Evie Zimmer, The Big Spin Oil on Canvas 30×30, 2012

Thankfully, there are some works of hers that do, in fact, betray the intense labour involved in creating these masterpieces. Consider for a moment, “The Big Spin.” It distinctly has that random feel and the same sense of caprice, but any examination beyond a glance will show the intricate craftsmanship of the piece. Evie Zimmer is the ultimate trickster in art; she won my drop-jaw admiration in seconds.

So let us now regard the effect of this whimsicality of Zimmer’s art on the viewer, for it is here that Kandinsky’s work also comes into play–or, more accurately, Kandinsky’s work comes in–to play, for “play” is the very effect a viewer experiences. Think about Kandinsky’s famous “Composition VIII,” for example. If you regard that painting without smiling, you’re either dead, blind, or are recovering from a recent injection of Novocain from the dentist. There is something about Kandinsky’s use of colour and geometric shapes that is pleasing to human sensibility and causes viewers to smile, to feel a soothing joy and calming reassurance. This is the same effect of the spectre of simplicity in Evie Zimmer’s art. Her work is far from geometric, but it’s the same use of colour, of whimsey, of child-like frivolity and deceptive innocence that offer viewers the stress-free warmth of play that we so enjoyed as children.

Wassily Kandinsky Composition VIII, 1923
Wassily Kandinsky Composition VIII, 1923

Medical experts are saying now that depression and anxiety are but symptoms of civilization; that the lifestyles of the hunters and gatherers of old held these emotional diseases at bay. Maybe so. If it is true, I’m willing to bet that the children of these ancestors of ours taught the adults as much about how to live as the adults taught the children how to survive. As Star Trek taught us back in the 1960’s, “The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play” (‘Shore Leave’). And if we have indeed lost that mixture of youth with age because of our primitive civilization, then at least we have wisdom enough to recognize the wonder of form and colour, and have attained the skill to produce it. So with the depression and anxiety that civilization has wrought for us, we have also supplied ourselves with the means for relief from it. We can find it in music, in literature, in dance and drama and in art—at least one artist’s work that has pushed further than any artist before her the bounds of play into the realm of stress in order to force it back under pain of death by wooden swords and pop guns.

Enjoy Evie Zimmer’s colourful paintings.

About the Writer:

A. J. Mittendorf is an avid art lover who has studied art history, art appreciation and art interpretation, for more than two decades. His Master’s degree is in Literature and his undergraduate degree is in English Education.