There’s a sort of visual stutter-step that Evan Dent’s meticulous recent collages put you through. From a few feet away, the image coheres: a mountain, in one case, or a playing card in another. Get closer, though. Parts of the image shift out of easy familiarity while others disarticulate entirely into swaths of visually dense abstraction—color, pattern. Is it *really* a playing card? A little closer, and you sort of grasp his technique of layering and carefully arranging strips of his source graphics. Yes, a playing card — but not just that. That snap of recognition “is a cool moment,” Dent agrees.

“Beistle Playing Card”

Double Scoop: “It kinda disrupts the act of looking.”

Evan Dent: “I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, just how satisfying and frustrating these are at the same time, you know? It’s like looking in a mirror ball and wanting to see a reflection.”

That galvanizing oscillation between certainty and ambiguity is on ample display in Stacks, a selection of Dent’s collages hanging through September in the Student Gallery at CSN’s Charleston Campus in Las Vegas. (Dent is a CSN adjunct faculty member.) It’s located mid-campus, in the student union, easily accessible from Community College Drive, and I’m being extra specific about how to find it for those of you tempted to pass on this show because you think it’ll be a hassle to get to. You shouldn’t let that stop you.

Generally speaking, a collage thrives on the energy exchange between elements clipped or torn from their original contexts and forced into unexpected new visual relationships—ideally suited, as Pop artist James Rosenquist once noted, to exploit modern culture’s whoosh of random imagery. “The blur between images creates a kind of motion in the mind,” he said. The pieces in Stacks seek their mental motion from a complementary dynamic. Working mostly with ephemeral material—postcards, playing cards, board-game cards—Dent slices multiples of the same one or two images, layers the pieces, then reslices and reassembles that image until a resonant strangeness is achieved. Example: I’m looking at (full disclosure!) one of the two small Dent collages I own, a desert scene crafted from postcards. While the sliced, spaced elements remain recognizable, they also seem to vibrate in a bizarre, new quantum flux: That cactus is either coming apart or coming together in a transformation narrative I can only guess at. As Dent says, “You have all these familiar elements, but it’s completely blasted.”

DS: “It looks like a very precise and controlled technique, and yet I gather that somehow randomness still plays a role.”

Evan: “Luck is inherent (in the process). There are some where I’ll think, ‘This will be a banger for sure,’ (but) visually it just didn’t have the pop I was looking for. With these collages, I have a whole stack of turds. It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, these don’t even look good as abstractions.’ They fell on their face.”

Dent began this body of work during the pandemic as a way to occupy his hands and brain in a process. Long a gatherer of paper ephemera, postcards in particular, he absorbed himself in the rhythms of chopping and remixing them. “It allowed me to zone out and think about other things,” he says. It also activated a kind of upcycler’s credo: “These are things that people throw away. It can be garbage, but it can also be this thing that brings us joy.”

“MTGCCG Mountains”

Because of their lowbrow, mass-market, commodity nature, Dent’s source materials trail wisps of cultural memory—postcards almost always evoke a sentimentality about place, however rote. Game cards, a nostalgia for one’s long-ago investment in carefree fandom. Playing cards, elements of risk and chance. Their disposability underlines the impermanence of memory, with Dent defamiliarizing them further. Take the collage titled “Mountains.” I, and maybe you, might not recognize its base image as a Magic the Gathering card. But my long love affair with actual mountains nonetheless cued a strong response. Which is just what Dent wants. “These aren’t my memories, they aren’t anyone’s memories,” he says. “You kind of approach it as a new thing.” There’s that stutter step again.

Evan Dent at his jeweler’s bench

DS: [Boringly pretentious question]

Evan: “In a lot of the works I make, I’m very reactionary—I’m reacting to a color, I’m reacting to a texture or a surface, so I’ll do something with that. … For the most part, I’d say, I want to be excited about the work. I’ll try to give them a lot of oomph. That’s one thing that drives me—making cool things, making beautiful things, and this seems to kind of hit those marks for me.”

Evan Dent: STACKS is on view in the Student Union Gallery the College of Southern Nevada’s Charleston campus through Sept. 30. Next, it will be on view at the Tyrone Thompson Student Union Gallery on the North Las Vegas Campus from Oct. 1 – Jan. 31, 2025 and at the Student Union Gallery at the Henderson Campus from Feb.1 – May 31, 2025.

Photos courtesy of Evan Dent

Posted by Scott Dickensheets

Scott Dickensheets writes a daily newsletter for City Cast Las Vegas. In previous lives he was features editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, deputy editor of Nevada Public Radio's Desert Companion magazine, and editor in chief of Las Vegas CityLife and the Las Vegas Weekly; he also held numerous posts at the Las Vegas Sun. He has edited, co-edited, or contributed to eight volumes of the Las Vegas Writes book series, and was an assistant editor of Nevada: 150 Years in the Silver State, the official book of the Nevada sesquicentennial.