Brad Eberhard – History, process and metaphor in (dis/solve) at Tom Solomon
When I visited Brad Eberhard’s exhibition, (dis/solve), at Tom Solomon Gallery, I was confused by his paintings. Eberhard is a careful, even meticulous artist, he builds up thin layers of paint and he works these by scraping, rubbing and scratching, so that his mark-making is as present as his colors and brushwork. The surface is important in his paintings, one can see it barely hidden beneath the layers of paint. Consequently, the picture, or image, of Eberhard’s paintings might appear to be only microns thick and yet still retain evidence of his active hand. His is not the drama of impasto, and his cuttings and scrapings of paintings do not feel violent; rather they feel thought out. His approach to abstraction is not derived from the Expressionist Germans or post-War Americans; it relates more to French Surrealists and English Pre-Raphaelites.
My confusion was two-fold: lately I have grown accustomed to seeing brushier abstractions, which I can easily interpret as emotional; also, I have been exposed to a great deal of true figure drawing and painting, and I have related this strict observational practice to directness and integrity.
Eberhard, on the other hand, paints not from life, but from pictures. How then, I wondered, can his figures be “real”? How can I relate to signifiers, to symbols of humans? Then I thought about seeing the Drawing Surrealism show at LACMA, and I recognized that Eberhard’s new figural work isn’t figural the way I understand the term. His man descending to the deep, being lowered from a small boat, isn’t so much a man as he is a god or archetype; this is allegorical painting.
Think about the cavern paintings in (dis/solve): Eberhard’s Way Out and Colored Dirt have a heightened reality, one that is not Surreal, but is maybe irreal, or, to borrow an old literary term, magically real. The painting of a light show in a darkened cavern becomes a parable on looking at a painting; Way Out might show figures scattered in a cave, and it might show those same figures wandering the folds of Adele Bloch-Bauer’s golden dress. In this way, looking at these new paintings, Paul Klee comes to my mind and also Gustav Klimt. Each artist employs a somewhat lapidary way of painting, with carefully defined patches of color that, in the aggregate, make pictures.
Klee also comes to mind because Eberhard seems to be developing language, or a glossary, with the evidence of process that he reveals. Much in the way the Swiss artist, whose work was rooted in Surrealist fusion of psychology and myth, used personal hieroglyphs to convey larger meanings through interpretation and association, I think the scratches and erasures – in addition to the colors and narratives – in Eberhard’s paintings point to the mechanics, the processes and the history of painting as metaphors for life.
There is emotion present in Brad Eberhard’s paintings, but instead of it being the passion of hot blood and anguish, I find it to be the passion of the engineer, of the composer, and of the craftsman. It is centered around the physical nature of the paintings themselves, and his language of symbols comes from the rich history of painting and, I think, from music. I think of Eberhard’s paintings as frozen music.
There are two sources for this group of paintings. One is an Italian SCUBA diving guide from 1976 that I found in a used book store. Many of the photos in it are imbued with a unique religious/art historical vibration that I was immediately excited by. The other source is a paperback guidebook to Carlsbad Caverns from the early ’50s that has highly designed, posed photographs printed in a strange, technicolor fashion.
Both sources show figures immersed environments that remind me of the kind of space I have been exploring in my abstract work- all-over, alternate gravity, dense, opulent. Of course, much of what I am saying involves plenty of projection on my part. Another person might pick up these books and find them quite mundane. Regardless, I was drawn to both because they seem ridiculously and unintentionally mythic/Jungian. Every diver is a hero- rising, falling, in repose. The tourists pictured in the guidebook are trekking into Hades! What will they find? Passing through a membrane… fluid, primal.
I like paintings that I can’t figure out. Guston, Klee, Neo Rauch all come to mind. I suppose I “figure them out” eventually, but, certainly, not at first. Ideally their inability to be easily read draws out my viewing, my thinking. I become more involved and engaged, more active even, in the sense that conceptual art is “completed” in the viewer’s mind.
Art making and viewing are subjective, so that reasons, and personal inspirations become important. Let me elaborate with a few examples from the show.
In these paintings, I want to include representation and narrative in my practice in a very intentional way. These things happened in my work before, but it was, for lack of a better word, accidental. Happy accidents. Welcome wrinkles in the plot. I really want to thicken the plot though- to explore more than formal issues and esoteric self-referential questions about contemporary painting and abstraction.
I didn’t begin the project with a theme. As I was working on it, themes emerged from the sources I selected. I kept thinking about a JW Waterhouse painting called “Hylas and the Nymphs”. Hylas is one of Jason’s argonauts who, one day, is sent onto an unexplored island to locate and retrieve fresh water for the ship’s crew. When he finds a fresh water source, beautiful and seductive nymphs appear from within it and beckon Hylas to accompany them to their underwater realm. How could he say no? He goes with them and is never seen again.
Did they trick him and did he just drown? Or, did he begin a new life (with hot new friends) in a fascinating, other realm?
I want to explore/depict some possibilities about dying/transitioning into another state/realm while I am myself transitioning to a significantly new way of working. Also, recent births and illnesses in my family have also made me think about the transition into and out of life as we know it.
I made these paintings as I have been making paintings for many years – in a very process-oriented way that involves many applications and removals of paint, as well as discovering forms, relationships, and color schemes as I go, largely by accident. In the last year, I started experimenting with using Masonite as a surface. I like the way sanded paint takes on a paper-like, flat but tactile quality, and the way that paint rests on the Masonite’s surface.
If there’s a drip in my painting, it’s often because I made it on purpose in a very controlled, Morris Louis-type way. That pink drip you noticed actually happened on accident. I liked it and painted around it, almost the way layers of paint accrue around the edge of an electrical socket after a wall has been painted a dozen times/colors.
I used crosshatching to modulate form and texture in the “frame” area of the painting “Colored Dirt” and this was only possible because the painting is on Masonite. If I scratched that way (with an X-acto knife) on canvas, it would tear it to shreds.
I am very sincere in my effort to make beautiful, meaningful art, and I regularly fear/experience that contemporary art insiders will view me as ridiculous, dated, corny, unintellectual, or overwrought. Although I sometimes worry about this, it doesn’t seem to change the way I make art.
I responded to the unintentional nature of my source materials mythic content because it, like the “happy accidents” I found while painting, was surprising. It made me happy. I like that someone was trying to present information quite dryly, in a how-to book way, but that everything came out mythic/Jungian/religious. I can relate to that!
Brad Eberhard (dis/solve) is on view at Thomas Solomon Gallery through April 20, 2013. http://www.thomassolomongallery.com/