September 28th, 2011
Austin Eddy likes making friends. At least, that’s how he talked about his recent sculptural work at our studio visit last week.
His latest body of work, entitled “Busty Busts,” signals a departure for the young Chicago painter and SAIC graduate. Made primarily out of art studio materials, the busts mirror Eddy’s painting studio processes, and are a welcome addition of disembodied playmates to the artist’s prolific collection of brazenly vibrant, luscious, and spatially fragmented portraits. I sat down with Eddy to talk about his newest series of figurative paintings, the evolution of the figure throughout his past work, as well as the development of his material practice with a new lean toward oil paint.
Stephanie Cristello: Who have you been looking at with these paintings? We were talking earlier about the Imagists and Matisse, Laura Owens and Chris Ofili as well…
Austin Eddy: I look at Marc Chagall paintings a lot – they’re so good. I just like how tender they are, they’re so sweet. I feel like he’s someone that no one really likes. It’s all very Fiddler on a Roof, you know? You look at his ‘couple’ figure paintings, and they are really elegant, but I think they come off as dated because no one really wants to talk about them today in the same way they like to talk about Matisse. Because it’s so ugly – it’s so good. Pointillism, scumbling and the weird blending, it’s such poor taste, which is also what makes it so appealing.
SC: And the hot and heavy jazz club imagery?
AE: I was on this John Coltrane kick and I thought that would be cool. Also, hip-hop culture is just such a funny thing to me, I figured I would make art about it because, why not? Nothing racially identifiable though, the paintings are too colorful to allow for that. Formally, I think that’s what makes them void of origin, and alien in a way. They all bleed into each other. They’re just people, and that’s all they have to be. I’m not trying to make a statement. You should make art about being Canadian.
SC: I should. I’m an outsider.
AE: Yeah, you should totally play that up.
SC: So how has this series progressed from your older work? It’s become more “figurative,” if you can even call it that. How did that switch?
AE: I like to think of my separate bodies of work more as part of a progression or evolution, rather than a switch or a change.
There is a lot of experimentation, failing, and sometimes succeeding that goes along with figuring stuff out that happens in the studio, which most people don’t end up seeing. So, once it enters the public sphere it seems like there’s been this drastic change in the work, when really it’s just another small step in the process.
SC: It’s funny; the figures in your newer work become the space, whereas in the old work the space became the figure.
AE: In most ways, yes. But in regards to the most recent work, I like to think of it as a continuation of past work, in that it’s still trying to accomplish some of the same things. I continue to attempt to create a mood, feeling or vibe, and address the process of how much or how little a painting can be made with. There has always been a narrative interest for me, though now with figures in place of the objects, a narrative may be more place-able or relatable. In both my current and previous work, I am trying to break forms to recreate a different sense of the original idea of the image.
SC: Right. And they’re physically built differently as well.
AE: Yes, there is still a heavy emphasis in variation through application, as well as continuing to deal with what it means to, or how to construct, a painting. Through the life span of the previous paintings I felt as though too many doors were closing and I needed to make more openings – find places for potential growth beyond just appearance and application. I thought I would change the form that filled the space and see what happened. Then things got harder and simpler all at the same time. It’s a real trip.
SC: These “couple” paintings share a lot of the Modernist routes you sourced in the “Chairs” series that came just before this one. The space is being more compressed, flattened by the occupation of the figures. The fragmentation of the figure-ground for the new stuff still echoes that sense of absence you were illustrating in your work from last year…
AE: I think that in the earlier paintings, the objects called for figures to fill them and bring them to life from the outside. Essentially, it appeared as if the chairs were like people missing their partners. Now, there are figures with partners, figures longing for partners, or figures just wanting to be safe in their own space, which is part of how I build that environment.
But to answer the question, there is a definite interest in playing with figure-ground relationship that allows the figures to mirror their space, and vice versa. I would say that the new images try to complicate the figure-ground even further than in the past work. I like to make the figures bleed in and out of the ground. But some [paintings] are more straightforward than others. Some just exist as figures in space.
SC: You’ve talked about failure in your work a lot in the past. Do you think that’s just something inherent that an artist has to face with painting?
AE: Kind of. A stroke never works, and then you have to redo it. Then you get to a place where you accept the image, and it looks ok, and then it’s done and it still sucks. It’s hard. I don’t like to go back into them once they’re done. The imperfection is the biggest thing about it all. You’re destined to fail. I think we all want to make a perfect painting – but as perfect as imperfection can be.
SC: Is there that same anxiety with the busts?
AE: I just started making those these past couple weeks actually. I’ve been thinking about what to do with them, they’re the first pieces of sculpture I’ve done besides the piece I put in the show at Golden. It’s like making friends; it’s a lot easier to hang out with people who don’t exist. I’d love to bring them with me places. We’re overpopulated enough as it is. Soon we’re going to have to start shipping people out into space – did you know that now you can get your ashes shot into space and scattered?
SC: I’ll be doing that.
AE: It’s just dust in the sky!
SC: We’ll get made into stars – we can glow forever.
AE: That’s beautiful.
Eddy will be showing in Hungryman’s upcoming exhibition Fountain LA, a solo show in December 2012 at their SF location, as well as Color US, a group drawing show this Fall at Galleria Ninapi in Ravenna, Italy.