In these times, “beautiful paintings” (in the simplest terms) are already experiencing a critical comeback judging partly from the otherwise diverse press on the Whitney’s stalled Agnes Pelton show.
In this vein, an exhibition of recent paintings and a few semi- drawings on panel (2016 – 2020) by Don Eddy at Nancy Hoffman, scheduled to open just as the COVID halt ensued, is first on my list. Meanwhile, the gallery has a nice presentation online with an array of accompanying text materials and a short video (below) in which the artist emphasizes the role of individual, disparate viewers in delimiting the content of his art. Having worked with photographic sources and media from the start of his prolific career into present digital age, Eddy’s work lends to reproduction on screen. What won’t come through until you meet an Eddy picture plane in person is its immaculately compressed layers, which, upon moving close-up and back, hovers between Seurat-like pixilation and a Kodak Instamatic.
WHAT: Don Eddy
WHERE: Nancy Hoffman Gallery, 520 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001
WHEN: March 19 – June 30, 2020
Online presentation: https://www.nancyhoffmangallery.com/eddy-20
(The gallery is temporarily closed to the public due to COVID-19; contact the gallery for further information.)
One could compare a transcendent sensibility of Pelton’s spiritual Surrealism to Eddy’s Spiritual Realism (as per Donald Kuspit, “Don Eddy: The Art of Paradox,” 2002), inhered in a seemingly meditative approach to painting. For Eddy, it’s exclusively airbrush application that somehow has a signature identity. Throughout his oeuvre, the imagery remains distinctly tethered to the visible world, and even invites viewers to consider the tricky mechanics of vision itself with spectrum-spanning color and blink-inducing, meticulous detail.
His starting point is explicit subject matters that accumulate and extend outward, to suggest further-flung constellations, enlisting cropping, unexpected juxtapositions, and, often, polyptych formats. On the other hand, amorphic poetic exaltation may be the predominant, immediate experience of an Eddy painting for viewers, which in turn inspires personal pictorial deconstructions.
As the artist discussed in the video, the arrangements of objects and sites on the picture plane are not narrative, linear or thematic a priori but signifiers that embody his memories, emotions, states of consciousness. For viewers, the same images will presumably trigger very different associations and experiences. For example, “Émigré Winter” (2016), which sets an architectural subject against a distanced cityscape and distills its gestalt into ephemeral elements, brought me to Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice.” Except while Frost’s sparse poem turns to bleak finality, Eddy’s dissolution appears transitory. The altarpiece-like configuration of a large central panel and tri-partite predella is applied to several other works, including the shimmery, “I am Water” (2019), in which a hovering ocean wave is broken down to molecular transparency below.
It may be a trope that all paintings are fundamentally abstract, but a tour de force in this regard is “Without Stopping III,” (2016)—an urban triptych of superimposed girders and reflective steely and transparent planes. They evoke a hypostasized late Piet Mondrian, and, at the moment, Scottish tartans (with the seclusion I’ve pulled out a related design book I’ve been meaning to get to). Note the slight shifting of the same elevator car depicted on each flank, as your eye jumps across a grid-framed speeding train in between.
In another triptych, “Sleepless in Budapest” (2018), the source images remain more legible, with similar emphasis, however, on a flanking rhythm vis-à-vis shifted viewpoints of a highway bridge. The seductive night lighting here is a forte intermittently throughout that, together with typically depopulated scenarios, injects a veiled dreamy turn, but never fantastical, as large swaths of humankind are indicated in the frequent transportation hubs throughout.
In the collection posted, spiritual reality is perhaps most literally expressed in two small works from a series titled “WDAS”(referring to windows, doors, and stairs; acrylic and pencil on panel). The depictions of a cropped church interior wherein light from stained glass windows is the ostensible subject are reminiscent of Cistercian aesthetics, in which shadows also assume incarnate weight.
Eddy’s paintings are generous gifts for our eyes, ultimately from and appealing to the soul in its widest paradigm.