Alumni Profiles

Dennis Evans: Hooked on the Cosmos

Katie Walker
Former Bush art teacher Dennis Evans, who taught a generation of Bush art students and worked with many generations of Seattle artists, makes a difference everywhere he goes.
When he and his wife, Nancy, bought their house, they planted trees all along the street to beautify the neighborhood. Now, they host art shows and holiday sales, and maintain an altar for wishes and a small sidewalk park. Walk inside “Utopian Heights”—as Dennis and Nancy have named their home—and you’ll enter eccentric rooms showcasing paintings, sculptures, and more from his former students, studio assistants, teachers, colleagues, and friends. The stairway down to their kilns and metalworking room is full of valentines Dennis and Nancy have made for each other, the stairway up to Dennis’ studio has openings which lead to cat passages built into the house.

“In 1980, I had a very fast ride out of art school,” Dennis explains. “I started showing commercially—I showed in New York and I was in the Whitney Biennial. So we decided to build this house for ourselves in 1980. We both loved art. We started trading with all of our friends, as young artists do. We realized that we wanted bigger art so we started buying. We have about 600 paintings. In the past five years we’ve started giving them away.” Dennis plans on giving Bush paintings that, as he says, “make sense for you to have,” including pieces by former teacher Fred Goode and by Dennis himself. 

“This piece is all about the multiverse,” Dennis says, and leads into the story of how he came to make scientifically-themed dimensional paintings about natural phenomena. “The first time I went to college, I wasn’t an artist. I came from Yakima, my dad was a butcher, my mom was a mom. We didn’t know anything about art, but I was born an artist. I was making stuff from the time I was a little kid. Just twelve years old, I built a full suit of armor for a little figure I had made. When I went to college I was the first person to go to college in my whole family—I couldn’t go to art school.” After graduating with a chemistry degree, Dennis was drafted and spent two years in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. Older, with more experience and able to pay his own way. Dennis finally went to art school at the University of Washington. “But I still am a scientist. In 2012 on the Fourth of July CERN Switzerland announced that they had found the Higgs-Boson. I heard it in my little earplug, lying in bed, and I grabbed Nancy’s leg and I said, ’I’ve just heard the rest of my life’s work’. I started re-teaching myself physics, and I read every book that’s written about the Higgs-Boson and quantum mechanics, and now dark matter and dark energy, and that’s what I’m making art about.” 

Dennis wants his paintings to teach, and even more than that, he wants them to hook people—young and old alike—on the big topics, the big questions. “I’m hooked on the cosmos,” Dennis says. “The whole idea is you gotta have fun, and if you’re not having fun, you’re probably not doing it right.”