Austin Eddy at Get This! Gallery
In his recent exhibition of paintings at Get This! Gallery, Brooklyn-based artist Austin Eddy organizes modest visual effects with an orthogenetic approach that wouldn’t have seemed possible ten years ago, in an environment where most contemporary painting harnessed an ideology of technology largely un-negotiated with its inherent tensions. Before this sea-change, artwork of a type that might be appropriated from popular culture or crafted with the sophistication of a consumer product masked opaque supporting processes like a computer program, designed to promote a culture of visibility, and hides an invisible architecture of code. In Someone to ride the river with, compositions are available and unplanned. Club-footed figures with honkable features dwell in readable, refreshing, and thought-provoking configurations. The paintings’ restricted color palette is a result of the artist’s exclusive use of raw canvas, caulk, charcoal, and black spray paint. Non-traditional art materials are collaged together in a practical way, dressed when necessary with value.
Eddy’s characters seem vocational, wearing big hats, pantaloons, and hatched thoraces of regret. Figures smoke and drink, drifting in and out of a rarefied economy of polka dots and stripes denoting clothing patterns and suggested interiors. Eddy’s characters could be from Don Quixote, with official insignias and period attire. They seem to have forgotten whether they are at work or at play. They fall down a lot, living in transitional environments like backrooms or vague half-dream pixelscapes. The figures’ pathetic qualities are redolent with post-workerism fatigue, and speak to the artist’s sense of struggle as well as the generalized climate in the art world of tragicomic corruption.
Several works in the series rely on old new visual tropes. Anything goes reads like a Stuart Davis composition. Jazzy doodles and pictorial syncopation camouflage a clown that chain smokes into a night sky and cries on his own feet. The figure is bent over backward, smooshed into place. A barber poll hems in the contorted torso. Character features are distilled into design elements. A white keyhole in the lower right corner operates as the visual opposite of the clown’s inflated and upturned black nose that waits for God or fate to squeeze. How Did You Find Me Here? has similar charm. Housed inside a small, hand-painted black frame, the painting depicts a uniformed individual under a night sky, again sad, again partially obscured into sprayed lines that look like a view through blinds, a device repeated in Can’t Live Long Like This. This bleeding of background through figure resembles similar uses by Léger, or Raoul Dufy, and saw popularity in mid-century illustration where design informed figuration. Fast and loose brushwork imitated jazz, setting the figures adrift in a shifting soup of foreground and background.
Conjuring the view of a live theater, Misery and Gin explores the sad sack through an elevation view, which is also used in Helping or Herding. Both works are large, containing multiple characters. In the first painting, a soot-covered figure with lumpy contours is bent over forward as another figure whose skin is similarly ashen rides on his back. One man holds a martini. Elements of the paintings, especially uniforms, seem to spangle and pivot in place, expedited by rhythmic spacing and monochromatic balance. In Helping or Herding, a dark man bends forward, scooping up a woman who reaches up to return his embrace. The artist pays special attention to ornamentation, which shines most notably in the man’s boots. Painted quickly but carefully, every lace and flourish feels considered. A scroll of silhouetted heads flashes across the bottom, under both characters’ feet. Aided by bleeding striped backgrounds and floating circular orbs that resemble moons, the watchful faceless gazes loom alarmingly. As a symbol for an audience, they denote a one-way view that enervates the looked-upon. In the paintings, Eddy cultivates a deep antipathy for the hybrid living/performance space of his characters which bears a striking resemblance to our own confused and emergent contemporary art culture.