I met David Eddington 30 years ago on a Master’s degree course in Fine Art. On first knowing he came across as a somewhat relaxed and laid back figure, almost languid and content to blend into the background. However, to the rest of us his stature both as a painter and as a person steadily grew and it soon became clear that here we were dealing not only with a very keen and determined intellect indeed, couched within this disarmingly affable persona, but also with an authentic painter, at one with his painting, who lived through his painting and whose paintings lived through him.
In a restaurant one night, all of those years ago, Eddington showed some images of his work, much to the astonishment of the uninitiated and unsuspecting assembled group, clearly absolutely unaware of either his innate ability or of the major success he had enjoyed as a painter, especially on the continent. Around this time, he had passed through a phase of Ultra-Realism in his painting, producing a series of truly fantastic paintings in which Eddington’s unique and masterful technical facility could fully display its potential to a zenith. On one visit to his house in Union Square in London at this time, I once saw one of these ultra-real pictures on the wall, depicting a discarded mattress and an easy chair executed with such clarity of vision not given to many. In truth, it could so easily have been mistaken for a window on to his back garden.
It is worth recalling that in the immediate years up to Eddington’s unlikely decision to embark upon a Master’s degree, he had enjoyed substantial recognition with these paintings of Ultra-Realism, with sell-out shows in Europe, which had incidentally given him a degree of financial security. So it is a true mark of the man that he was prepared to turn his back on all of this and give free reign to his restless, highly eclectic creative nature and go back to the drawing board. For in effect this is what he did. He could so easily have rested on his laurels and met his gallery’s demands for ever more work. But instead, he embarked on a series of what were termed ‘rag paintings’, but which were to all intents and purposes pure abstract paintings. (1)
To the casual observer these painted images just showed piles of cloth. However, what was really going on here was a fundamental analysis of the intrinsic painting process divorced from any real constraint to describe objects or define narratives. Eddington yearned to liberate his painting and so inevitably himself, from his Midas touch as an artist. For although everything Eddington touched as an artist was exquisitely crafted and had an innate beauty, such a Midas touch can of course be as much a straightjacket as a blessing. Through these abstracted, empirical subjective experiments, Eddington realised a new free gestural style which radically transformed his work then – and critically still impinges on his painting today, for much of his current work is built upon an abstract template and balances on the edge of an abstract ambiguity.
Eddington makes reference to the influence exerted upon him by the American painter Philip Guston. In the ‘rag’ paintings we can detect the echoes of Guston’s abstracted heaps of boots and shoes, legs and dissociated bodies. Guston, of course, the purist abstract painter par excellenceshowed how such abstract analysis can be carried forward into grim reality, a lesson obviously not lost on Eddington. Just as Guston was so politically and socially aware, made all the more sensitised by his own tragic Jewish history, so too has Eddington developed a powerful political and philosophical narrative in his later painting.
It follows that this subjective analysis of the core painting process and the concomitant reciprocal analysis of his own inner self, resulted not only in the emancipation of his formal language but also of its content. Initially this seemed to know no bounds: images of water fountains or snooker tables rubbed shoulders with Renaissance figural groupings and sheaves of the most delicate and sensitive watercolour and pencil figures. (2) Such was the unrestrained diversity that at one time I provocatively described Eddington as ‘a brilliant painter without a subject’. But what did definitely slowly emerge was a subject matter to define Eddington himself and his relationship to the world around him. That he has, over recent years evolved a personal iconography through which to embody, encapsulate, attempt to rationalise and ultimately to express his deeply sensitive and complex responses to a chaotic and irrational reality, is a personal triumph and pays tribute to his fulfilment of this prime imperative of a painter.
Such a personal iconographic language can be traced back in his painting even before I knew him, in images where the icon of a ‘little gardener’ figure popped up here and there in various scenarios. But the crucial difference here is that whereas such a symbolic icon might not always develop that transitional space through which the spectator can be privy to its hidden secrets, Eddington’s contemporary painting can resonate far beyond the private and sometimes even embody the universal.
In some recent painting, monolithic, soulless, faceless, cold, metallic icons, so often central edifices in a barren, empty, fearful void, speak of an inhuman electronic cyber world of Big Brother, devoid of real contact or compassion and always on the edge of violence. (see Office Building2011/12, Shaft 2011, Duplex 2010, Administration Building 2010, Institution 2008, Ivory Tower 2008). Sometimes, the universal, remote anonymity, gives way to the specific reference to a political or humanitarian concern. (Olive Grove 2008, Promised Land 2008, Neighbourhood 2008). There is a brutality here of a ruthless and unapproachable power, but set in a contradiction, a paradox: that is, the contradictory nature of Eddington’s high aesthetic ideal which at one and the same time sets forth a nihilistic vision framed within the formal means for its redemption. In the end authentic painting must always offer hope and it is Eddington’s powerful aestheticism which gives the spectator the scope to objectively contemplate the depiction of an emotional void. For the aesthetic is ultimately an anaesthetic.
In the series of paintings designated as Matrices we can again clearly see the abstracted essence of Eddington’s late work. I think that whether consciously or not, Philip Guston’s influence can be detected. Guston would draw the spectator into the painter’s creative process vicariously by laying bare the essence of the painting’s development from its earliest traces through to a resolution. Often Guston’s figures and objects seemed to have been precipitated or distilled from the unconscious matrix giving rise to them. This mimics deep psychological processes of perception and cognition which the unconscious mind recognises and automatically engages with. The whole process simulates the innate perceptual process whereby the object is isolated from its surrounding and given plasticity.
Eddington’s paintings in the Matrices series function on a comparable level. His unconscious painterly backdrop of gesture often seems to isolate the core abstract painterly process in an infinite void behind the object. It is this abstract painterly void that is the original crucible of the object’s evolution. In this way the unconscious creative process is revealed to the spectator who becomes embroiled in its machinations.
Sometimes this void contains a barely discernible and half-submerged object or building in a more elemental or embryonic stage of development, trying to struggle free, as in Avia 2012. But on the picture’s surface, the bird, like the painter, flies free. In Equine Science (2012) an isolated roofed structure sits in the infinite void with its explanatory scientific diagram on one surface and its equine inscription on another. Subject matter and content become abstract and abstraction gives birth to an abstract reality. Again, in Monads (2012) and Arcadia (2012) there are vague traces of real things set in this abstract universe. Beautiful paintings, infused with Eddington’s imaginative and highly creative sensitivity. It is more than clear, as is shown to great effect in LA Artist (2012) that Eddington has been able to cart abstract art around on his back, to be at his disposal and to use as he feels fit. It might appear to be a burden; a heavy weight or cross to bear; the endless Sisyphean task of the painter. But this has its rewards, and Eddington has reaped them in a glorious harvest.
These recent paintings embody the fundamental transformation undergone by Eddington as a painter and thinker since his relocation to New Orleans in 2000 and then on to California where he now lives and works. His painting is absolutely contemporary and cutting edge as he has absorbed all that the ultra-modernist United States can offer. Look at Artigiano (2012), a picture in which the painter becomes enveloped within the pictorial space, lives inside it and is totally infused with the medium and the craft of its creation. But also this type of new painting by Eddington, in what is a truly exciting series, seems to make reference to all of those painters like Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter or Julian Schnabel: absorbing everything like a sponge and carrying it even further. The USA has radically reconvened Eddington’s mind as a painter. Certainly there are conscious references to a postmodern simulation of gesture and mannerism as a critique. But unlike pastiche and mannered postmodern painting where symbols and narratives are so often overlaid or superimposed on to a preconceived narrative, Eddington develops true painting in depth. He sees that art can serve his humanity and generosity of spirit and embody the principles he holds dear. In this his painting is true to himself.
We can see this so clearly in a painting such as the recent El Nino (2012), where the iconography and narrative seem again to evolve from their source in the emotion of the formal expressive language. As the dream always shows, it is the force of unconscious emotion that compels the formulation of symbols and images, which contain and deal with it, whilst the conscious mind is immobilised. Here is Eddington as Prospero, Shakespeare’s leading protagonist in The Tempest and absolute master through his control of magical creative spirits. A mastery enabling the painter to risk the vicissitudes and dangerous undercurrents of a creative process that always threatens to overturn the boat. (3)
For boats and water have always been so close to Eddington’s heart (4). The wooden rowing boats of El Nino crop up again in Boardwalk (2012), Hardstanding (2012), and in the enigmatic Water and Power (2010). Indeed, in his whole water and power series of paintings, as well as in his series of bridge paintings, we can discern this long attachment. But true to himself – and his roots, these seem to have such a powerful English connection. Wherever he may be in essence, Eddington still seems to be the archetypal Englishman. In his powerful images of turbines and propeller shafts and water cooled engines, all put very much to Eddington’s own particular ends fulfilling philosophical objectives and concerns, we cannot help but see again Edward Wadsworth’s marine propellers and shafts beside very English river banks.
David Eddington’s painting since 2000 has become contemporary and universal in its scope and importance. It is his creative ingenuity and invention that I respect most highly in paintings that surely will stand the test of time. But he has never lost sight of his creative roots which have held him in such good stead and are so important to this mesmeric painter, who, wherever he may find himself, will always be an Englishman abroad.
Stephen Newton 2013
1. Eddington told me himself around this time that the Ultra-Realist paintings were also terribly labour intensive. He would think nothing of working for 18 long hours at a stretch on these paintings. So in this light, perhaps continually meeting the demands of a gallery becomes more just a labour than a labour of love.
2. I remember once sitting up late into the night looking at hundreds of exquisite watercolour and pencil works of figures in various poses. There was an undoubted ecstatic quality to these pieces, which seemed to glow and to develop a luminescence outlining them, much like Monet could achieve around his trees and hills.
3. I was fortunate many years ago to buy an early work of Eddington: Portrait of a Whale (1974). This painting (pictured) illustrates Eddington’s understanding of the dream structure. No doubt one could give a lengthy Freudian analysis of such a paradoxical image. Suffice here to say that the title could just as easily have been Self-Portrait, for the whale is surely David Eddington himself.
I discuss Shakespeare’s The Tempest in greater depth in an article, Art and the Death of Conscience, published in Art and Death (Ziggurat Books International, Paris, 2009, pp 150-167).
4. I once had the somewhat dubious pleasure of sailing up an estuary in mid-winter on Eddington’s open-cabin outboard motor cruiser. In freezing conditions I had taken the precaution to wrap up fairly well. Despite this my feet were blocks of ice frozen solid to the bottom of the boat. Eddington, by contrast in a short sleeved shirt and flimsy jacket, was absolutely impervious to the elements.
Stephen Newton Ph.D. is a painter and the author of The Politics and Psychoanalysis of Primitivism (Ziggurat Books International, London, 1996), Painting, Psychoanalysis, and Spirituality (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2001) and Art and Ritual: A Painter’s Journey (Ziggurat Books International, Paris, 2008).
A catalogue to accompany exhibitions of paintings at the Boyd Satellite Gallery, New Orleans, USA and the Abbey Walk Gallery, Grimsby, UK. Eddington’s personal iconography is depicted in strange worlds of austere urban environments integrated with idyllic pastoral landscapes. Here, boats and animals, sometimes accompanied by people, act as metaphors. His control of the paInted surface counters the implications of his imagery, the idea of a world tarnished by negligence and waste.