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May 04, 2016

Connor Everts, One of America's Oldest Obscenity Defendants, Dies

TORRANCE, Calif.—Obscenity ain't what it used to be. In fact, someone might consider starting a website (or writing a book) based on the concept that what was once branded as "obscene" is now considered a fine example of classic art—and a good place to start might be by examining the art of the late Connor Everts, an L.A.-area resident who died late last month. A dock worker by trade, Everts practiced his art at night, creating paintings with nebulous and physically distorted forms, many of which were clearly sexual—and one of which got him busted in 1964 for obscenity. In 1964, the nation was still reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the previous November, and Evert created a series of nine lithographs titled, as a group, "Studies in Desperation," about which commentator Bondo Wyszpolski wrote that Everts had said that "the images were his renderings of someone looking out from the womb and choosing not to be born until the world was a better place." "Studies in Desperation" were displayed at the Zora Gallery, founded by Zora Sweet Pinney, on North La Cienega Boulevard, and one of the pieces was put into the gallery's storefront window. A police officer spotted the litho, which depicted a woman's vagina with a face apparently having just emerged from it, in early June of '64, decided the image was obscene, and busted Everts for obscenity. "Later, they came down to interview me ... and I said, 'What is it that you found objectionable?' And he said, 'Well, you know, there was this orifice and then there was phallic things,' and I said, 'Well, if you start saying like that, you're going to have to chop down every telephone pole, and watch out for those windows,' and I couldn't believe they were serious about this and I thought that was going to be the end of it ... [Deputy DA James] Clancy was making a big thing out of having this poster in the window, was the same thing as having the actual element there. He said, 'That picture is immoral.' I said, 'Well, you have to realize, there's a lot of difference between love and lust so at times they may assume the same physiological position.' Then when he was talking about that power, I said, 'Well, what an artist does is not the object itself but an abstraction. If you take something like communion,' I said, 'we take communion but if you looked at it logically, you're eating Christ, because the wafer, the body and the blood, that's cannibalism.' And I looked, and two women blanched, and I knew there were a couple of Catholics on the jury, and that we'd at least have them. When you do something you think is true, and by being true, beautiful, and someone else sees it as filth, you kind of have to question, are you fooling yourself? I mean, if so many people see it differently than you see it, how clear are your eyes?" Indeed, Everts did go to trial in early in 1965, but his arrest had outraged the entire Los Angeles art community, which rallied around him. Everts' first trial ended in a hung jury, possibly because of the analogy Everts noted above, and when the city tried him a second time in March of that year, he was acquitted altogether by the judge sitting without a jury. Sadly, however, the legal fracas resulted in Everts being fired from his teaching position at Chouinard Art Institute, where he had been chairman of the Graphics Department. In the ensuing years, Everts' works have gained greater and greater appeal in the art world, resulting in one-man showings in such places as the Long Beach Museum of Art, and the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum). During the late 1960s and 1970s he was a guest artist and instructor at the San Francisco Art Institute, University of Southern California, and California Institute of Technology. Everts was 88 at his death; the cause was not disclosed. A YouTube interview with the artist, which talks in part about his bust, can be found here. Pictured: Selections from Connor Everts' "Studies in Desperation."

 
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