Meeting Gail and Evan, one quickly gets the sense of a rare and truly artistic union. She, with her untamed blonde hair and strikingly tall frame dressed in signature black. He, with his broken-in denim and rugged good looks. Together, they’re the perfectly unexpected combination of yen and yang, and as a couple have been long-established fixtures of the creative community in Austin. We’re inspired just by the way they live: summers in Paris, a shared studio space full of art and fashion, candlelit dinners with friends. For every millenial artist who’s dreamt of moving to Austin to do something creative, Gail and Evan have paved the way. And after spending an afternoon with them in their South Austin studio, we can’t help but think of a phrase that they never claimed for themselves: soul mates.
photos by Nicole Mlakar
You’re both artists working in several arenas. How would you describe yourselves in terms of what you do?
Gail: I’m a clothing designer, window display artist, and a mom — not necessarily in that order!
Evan: I own a business called The Neon Jungle. I’m a sign maker by trade — occasionally I get the chance to be an artist. I’m a parent, husband, and partner the rest of the time.
Gail, who studied at Esmod in Paris, has owned the noir chic Blackmail Boutique on South Congress since she created it with Evan 17 years ago:
Gail: I saw a store in Paris that was all white. I said, “I think the world needs a store that’s all black.”
Evan: Blackmail was really our first artistic project together. We lived together in a tiny space behind the store in those years.
Gail, you’ve sold many of your own designs at Blackmail as well as with retailers around the US. Are your pieces only available in-store?
Gail: I’ve just launched my new website. For the first time ever Gail Chovan is available online.
Anna Davidson (Gail’s assistant, picture here): We’re working on FW14 right now.
Gail’s aesthetic examines the transformative properties of textiles and the relationship between the garment and the individual. Pictured here is the meghan trouser, one of the gorgeously structured pieces available from her SS14 collection.
Gail, all of your pieces are constructed by hand. Do you have a favorite machine to work on?
This Singer was built in 1917 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Evan bought it for me as a gift. I love using it. As old as it is, it’s one of the most reliable. And, it was built in New Jersey — like me!
Would you say that you have similar aesthestics?
Evan and Gail: Yes.
Gail: We’re drawn to old things, vintage things, handmade things… we like the same sort of objects.
How did you two first meet?
Evan: At a wedding in Hollywood in 1993. I saw this tall, stately waterbird of a creature walk in with her nose in the air. I said to myself, “Who. Is. THAT.”
I had a car full of vintage to sell in California, but she somehow folded herself up into the front seat. We ended up going shopping together in Melrose that day. It was like, “This person gets it. She understands how I see things.”
Tell us about your shared studio on South First. It’s divided into two parts — his and hers. What’s it called?
Evan: We don’t have a name for it. We’ve had it for 18 years and always just called it “the studio”. I never made a sign for it.
So, in essence it’s a sign maker’s studio without a sign?
Evan: Right. I was just too busy.
That’s kind of great.
Evan: We finally painted our names on the front door. It’s subtle.
Since you live together and work together at the studio, are you together all day every day?
Gail: No, I’m here usually during the day —
Evan: And I do much of my work at night while she’s at home with the kids.
Gail: But the best is when I know he’s on the other side of the wall, doing his thing, while I’m over here with Anna.
Evan: Gail’s my creative sounding board. It’s great to have her on the other side of the wall.
Are your creative processes similar?
Evan: In essence, we both create three dimensional sculptural objects that are meant to be viewed. Our approach to conceiving and designing those objects is remarkably similar: we both start out with sketches, then translate that to pattern paper. Gail even uses the same pattern paper as I do. We get it from a sign company. Ultimately, we take those patterns and apply them to whatever materials we’ve selected for the project. But at that point, our paths diverge…
Evan: Gail has the display aspect. I tend to work in more in chaos…
Gail: Yes. (laughter)
Evan: This place is clean now! You should have seen it a few years ago.
You have so many interesting pieces in here. Is there a story behind this sculpture?
Evan: There’s a story behind everything.
Gail: Yes, we got that at the Art Ball benefiting the Austin Museum of Art. Evan, do you remember the artists’ name?
Evan: No. But we crashed the party under someone else’s names. We were even wearing their name tags. We used their tickets because we couldn’t afford to go, and of course we ended up bidding on a piece of art.
Evan, is there any particular project you’re excited to be working on right now?
I’m currently constructing a 30-foot zeppelin for the new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on South Lamar, completely out of old signs. I did all the installations in the lobby of the old South Lamar location. I’ve been with them since the beginning.
Were you each doing what you do now when you first met?
Evan: After the wedding in ’93, we met again in ’95 after Gail had moved to Austin. Our worlds had changed considerably over two years.
Gail: I was working at Tesoros as a retail manager and buyer —
Evan: And I was their sign maker. The sign kept breaking, and she kept having to call me to come out and fix it.
Gail: I finally asked him out. And then the sign stopped breaking.
Evan: You might say our relationship was forged over arguments over as to why the sign was breaking.
Gail: We didn’t argue!
Evan: Yes we did.
Evan: We specialize in adversity.