When we arise from our slumbers each day, we enter a new world. Not necessarily to the climes of renewed energy and possibility, but a world changed by time and age. We remain unmindful of minor daily changes, but so, too, we usually ignore the accumulations of time passing, the small wastings that insult our immortality, and prompt recognition that nobody lives forever.
To enter the world of David Eddington’s paintings, these freeze frame renditions of the seasons, is to face with startled eye the features of our always and already changed world. We confront the foreign immensities of an artist’s imagination, the world-making that writers and painters do with ruthless grace. Eddington does not spare our feelings when he uses bones, decay, dying vegetation, or as in earlier paintings, bilgewater, as representations of what we might feel if we were to take the daily measure of our mottled, sagging skin or overfed bodies.
To look outside of the personal body, we encounter the landscape. Alexander Hemon in his very moving autobiography, My Book of Lives, speaks of his adopted city, Chicago. Displaced from his native Albania, he enters a new country, and Chicago enters him where the visions and aromas there mix with those of his beloved Sarajevo. Although the Season paintings are landscapes that could invite entry, the flattened, brightly hued wastescapes inhibit movement. The observer stands frozen in front of their eerie allure. The painter may spread his wings and flay his brushes within these large expanses, but the observer holds back from their perspective of a world squeezed airless and frightening. As wary as he is curious, one enters at one’s risk.
Apart from personal reactions, these paintings evoke erosion and waste on a global scale. One thinks of global warming, nuclear winter, shrinking biomass, the depersonalization of drone warfare and the further obliteration of the individual in a monitized, computerized, digitalized world. The intense color which appears in these highly inflected canvases is not that far from the lurid enhancements one employs to make the real moreso with Photoshop devices, succeeding mostly in making everything seem less real. If one reviews the un-enhanced pictures of last summer in the Sierras, or the beaches of Hawaii, those pleasant memories must quarantine the lake's receding water line, sinks of plastic detritus in the ocean, the musk of pollution that floats from China not Los Angeles or the senescence of whole species of trees and animals which threatens to denude our forests and rob the air of birdsong.* There is a tension in these paintings between sterility and desiccation and a subterranean upwelling of posthumous grief.**
And as the narrator of Kadare’s novel of murder in a soulless tyrranized Albania must ask himself, “who is the architect” (among us). So too does the observer of these paintings, watching almost complicitly with the painter, ask himself what have I, what have we all done to put this world at risk? Who among us is not both creator and destroyer, or the guilty bystander who slips into time, passively accepting, even savoring the scene, the transfixing beauty of destruction.
Eddington’s work extracts its visual delight from this world of decay, finding it in the materials which misalign our conventional visual experience and offers (thin) hope that wastage and decay has its own beauty as does the work of south American artist, Vik Muniz who mines for artistic gold in the dumps and favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Unlike that artists work, however, Eddington has drained his paintings of romance or sentimentality, in part I suspect, from a painter who knows how to easily make beautiful things, but now rebels again the facile comforts of brushstroke and compositional balance. Many visual elements in David's painting puncture and interrupt anticipation. Elements seem random and out of place as if the longitudinal rhythms of evolution have been sped, as well as screwed up. As in many of this artist's works, the onlooker has work to do to compose the picture for himself, and perhaps move on to the harder task of finding meaning there.
* A recent study published by PLOS estimated that “5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, large and small could be found throughout the world’s oceans, even in the most remote reaches.”
NYT’s December 11, 2014
**There is no art without grieving. Which is precisely what constitutes its somber greatness”
The Successor, Ismail Kadare
If as Robert Motherwell said “drama moves us: conflict is an inherent pattern in reality,” Eddington’s paintings appear as if the drama has already happened. What we see is what remains after the drama, and the viewer must contend with feelings that relate to loss and inanition. This is not heaven, but it is also not hell. It is a tapestry of a place which arises when man and his myths have been defeated by natural or unnatural processes, the kind of magic a painter can do when he make worlds beyond.
Eddington’s work portrays a refusal to fall toward style. These are Poussin landscapes spooked and Grand Guignol. They are the documents of a restless painter who travels a transmografied universe to bring back the visuals. The artist may claim no credit for the damage represented in these paintings. They are about the despoilation of the planet by those who inhabit it, and the worst offenders do not include painters.
As such these works are forbidding rather than inviting, and one searches from one season to the other for some resting place or respite, most welcome in autumn but even there singed by the radioactive luminosity which frazzles the landscape. This is a quarantined world shorn of living flesh and blood, bodies down to the bare bones. These are surgical amphitheatres, their contaminated drapes shorn, pockets of debris littering a terrain stained by blood. Signs of life suggest mutations which follow nuclear destruction. All that seems to remain are polypoid extrusions that hold fragile promise for a world to follow. If there is beauty in these paintings, and I believe that there is, it does not derive from a narrative completion. For four paintings that range through the seasons, we begin with bare bones end end with them, the renderings increasingly schematic and disjointed so that the promise of narrative fulfillment is disappointed. Eddington's realism, so-called, derives his loose form beauty and color in composition with the foetid and decaying elements of life beneath. Gestures at the surface speed by like the high speed underground trains which glide over garbage and rats.
So nothing optimistic in his thin narrative, and little consolation from what Clive Bell considered significant form. There are trees, intimations of landscape and atmosphere, but their consolations are slender as Eddington’s hieroglyphic dashes and slashes from Chinese brush paintings reminds us that if this is a landscape it is one that has first passed through the artist’s blender.
I imagine that a painter rebels constantly against the limitations of pictorial space. He has only one canvas (at a time) with which he can do eventually one composition, one world to create among a welter of shifting choices each day. He adds, subtracts, overpaints, erases, superimposes, obliterates, like God did for seven days. This is creation, powerful on the one hand, vulnerable, fragile and always at risk of failure and dissolution on the other. The creative risk is felt throughout these paintings, world making and world ending. The artist stands in front of these large canvases, world dominating yet, at the same time, imbedded in a creative process where self is obliterated, as is much of the terrain in these paintings. For reasons I cannot explain, despite their scenic dazzlement, their striking visual presence, the artist who made them feels as absent as the barely perceptible figures that occupy a small portion of these landscapes. The brushwork is delicate, wispy, fugitive, as if the artist might not wish to occupy himself long in these climes, staying only to pass through. In the painting of Autumn, there a sense of indwelling, possible inhabitation; the bones are gone and vegetative matter of some sort appears. But these buds of survival and presence, disappear almost completely by winter leaving bloody smudges behind.
Reading a recent essay by Jed Perl on the three Picasso exhibitions on view presently in Paris and New York, I realize that David Eddington’s pieces recall the the multiform nature of Picasso’s dazzling display of styles over many years. Perl quotes Meyer Shapiro who “emphasized Picasso’s zigzagging transformation, ‘from the reality to an abstraction; from an abstraction into a reality’--and the way that, through the powerful actions of his hand, Picasso possesses these transformations”. If Eddington does not quite deploy the strength and muscularity of this immense painter, he has come later in a time where style has been worn by the waning world, and strains toward an explosive showiness as if hip painters now shout in order to be seen.
I have had more than the expected difficulty thinking upon these paintings. The elements of composition, the objects and movements they contain confuse interpretation and as already noted, offer little comfort. In their attempt to say something about the world and its unfathomable compass, they cannot but fail. They place a burden upon this viewer to meet them, rather as if one were being asked to answer didactic questions about the author’s intentions in Gravity’s Rainbow or explain modernism. I apologize for this imprecise and awkward effort but the writing has mirrored the difficult trek of wandering in and out of these works.
A final word about influences. One cannot expound upon what the artist’s mind might contain of the world and its elements, that junkyard of things in the terrain which tumble forth like the contents of Fibber McGee’s closet. To suggest here that David’s work reflects the expansive scale of art in Los Angeles, Japanese anime, surrealism, science fiction movies, references to the post WWI painters Paul Nash or Otto Dix, or riffs on the gigantism of modern photography is only to roll out one’s personal associations plumped up for the writing. These things likely defy the reader to go one more. It’s fun to riff in this way, but diminishes what the artist has unconsciously tamed of his own thoughts and impulses through the more conscious agglomeration by the writer who makes use of his words. Since these are only words sufficiently different from paintings, one would be best off leaving the canvas alone to speak as it will to each receiver of the spectacle placed there. Of course, by writing this I can have it both ways, and for that I apologize, sort of.
Bruce Johnston 2015