Tristan Eaton’s art is everywhere — from his 2008 poster for President Obama’s campaign to his storytelling collaboration with Starbucks in 2018 to his illustrations that became the art on Super Bowl LIV tickets. His murals cover the sides of buildings around the globe; one of them, his take on the Universal Studios’ “Monsters,” lines the wall of the studio’s entire backlot in Hollywood. His design is on the San Jose Sharks hockey team’s jerseys, amping up their presence on the ice; his art has even made it into space with SpaceX in the form of indestructible paintings.
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One thing that the multidisciplinary urban pop artist has not had until now was a solo museum show in the US. This Friday, his first major retrospective, “Tristan Eaton: All At Once: 25 Years of Art & Design,” opened at Long Beach Museum of Art, its opening night coinciding with the museum’s reopening.
WHAT: Tristan Eaton: All At Once: 25 Years of Art & Design
WHEN: July 16 through October 3, 2021.
WHERE: Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, CA
Eaton’s show has taken over the two floors of LBMA’s Hartman Pavilion, creating an immersive and interactive experience that traces his artistic trajectory. The exhibition includes original items from Eaton’s long-ranging works, replicas of classic pieces, and installations developed exclusively for this show.
The exhibit begins with Eaton’s early work, including art toys, which were his first foray into the public consciousness at the age of 18. He co-founded the legendary KidRobot company upon graduating from New York’s School of Visual Arts. It was at KidRobot that he created his iconic “Dunny” and “Munny.” The five-foot-tall “Munny” coated in chalkboard paint, which visitors can write on, is included in the LBMA exhibition.
Moving into the exhibition are samples from his one-time secret identity, TrustoCorp. Like most contemporary art, Eaton’s work is a social commentary. After his involvement with Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, during which he experienced racism and hypocrisy, he came up with TrustoCorp to satirize and bring attention to the situation.
“There was something futile about adding to the noise of street art,” the 43-year-old Eaton says. “I started looking at where else in the landscape there is typography and messaging that we trust. Street signs, billboards, grocery stores…”
He tapped into those mediums of communication and created 72 street signs. He laid them in New York City out, so they outlined a middle finger. He took photos of each sign and created an interactive Google Map. He repeated this project in nine different cities across the United States. The New York City installation map is recreated on a wall at LBMA with giant push pins and the original Polaroids from that project.
The TrustoCorp area of the exhibition, which covers the five years of this alter-ego from 2008 to 2013, also features an interactive replica of the original lowrider shopping cart Eaton created with hydraulics, sound system, and custom paint job. Says Eaton, “In the Trustocorp work is where you see the earliest seeds of what I’m doing now — where I start collaging imagery and tearing things and bringing them together.”
While the ground floor of the exhibition comprises works that are the building blocks of Eaton’s artistic growth, the second floor’s space showcases works where his mature style, which art fans have come to recognize as singularly his, is realized. Although it consists of all new pieces, they are referential to Eaton’s previous work, presenting it in a new way.
On this level is a brand-new installation for “All At Once” titled “Unfair Fun Fair: Play or Get Played” — 88 feet of interactive murals, two new sculptures, lots of ephemera, and behind-the-scenes elements, including items from Eaton’s archives that the public has never seen. Visitors start by entering the “Rat Race,” which is a 12×18-foot Plinko game. As you race to the bottom, you win custom, laser-engraved coins.
Interactivity is a huge component of “All At Once.” In a section of the exhibition titled “Legacy,” Eaton honors his father, also a painter, by continuing his tradition of listening to people’s life stories while painting their portraits. Interviews with the portrait subjects are accessible by scanning a QR code. And in the 3D section of “All At Once,” Eaton collects an entire room of floor-to-ceiling 3D art he has created from the last 25 years. There will be 3D glasses on hand for the full effect.
The sculpture is another prevalent element of “All At Once.” A standout piece is “Uprise,” based on the artist’s 2017 exhibition at Paris’s Galerie Itinerrance that showed paintings commenting on a visual history of 300-years of protest and resistance. “Uprise” represents the ideas from those works fused into an intricately carved three-foot-high sculpture.
Also on the second level of the exhibition is Eaton’s artwork just recently returned from the International Space Station. Titled “Human Kind,” these pieces are symbolic imagery of nature and animals and humans etched on heavy-duty, two-sided plates of gold, brass, and aluminum. In addition, his officially licensed Marvel fine art prints are on display in an elaborate section that shows the original ink drawings, original canvases, and 40-pound copper plates used for the photo stamping.
Eaton’s large-sale murals are arguably the most impactful of his products, and they are the linchpin of “All At Once.” Detailed to a minute degree— Eaton puts in as much time, perhaps more, into researching the topic as he does into sketching. “That early preparation before painting the mural is such a huge part of it,” he says. “It is more academic than I thought I would be able to put up with. But, I really enjoy it because I always find surprises that excite me to paint. At my best, every element in the mural represents something and isn’t just a throwaway graphic.”Eaton’s murals are an enhancement wherever they are—not to mention the ones that are copied and bootlegged. Through his partnerships with high-profile brands, Eaton brings his art to the masses, doing so on an annual basis, both to broaden his audience and give everyone access to his work.
“I don’t want to be an artist that only makes things that are so expensive no one can afford them,” he says. “You only have so much street cred, but you have to puncture the zeitgeist sometimes. You have to be able to reach the commercial audience every once in a while, to drag people kicking and screaming into the underground world of art.”
“It’s a privilege for me to be in this building,” he continues. “My work is a visual collage of many different styles and aesthetics. None of that happened overnight. It’s new to me to see it all together like this, exciting and sometimes cringing. To see the progress and be able to put a bow on it and move forward really is an awesome thing.”