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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Don Eddy

4 VWs, 1971, Don Eddy. Car lots were a recurring theme in his early works.
Don Eddy with a work in progress,
exposing the detailed under painting,
which is the first stage in each of
his works.
Whenever I encounter really outstanding photorealism, I have the urge to present it, one painting after another, perhaps indicating titles, dates, and artists, but foregoing any peripheral information regarding the artists, the works themselves, or even the style of painting and its place in the history of art. They're just so beautiful, so fascinating, so delightful, who needs all that other crap? Partially, at least, that comes from having tried my hand at such art on numerous occasions with varying degrees of success. I've got some real clunkers along this line that I can't bear to destroy, yet I keep well hidden so neither I nor anyone else has to confront my failures. In other cases, I've featured the more successful ones in my book, Art Think (available at right).

Don Eddy and I have quite a bit in common. We're roughly the same age. He was born in 1944, I was born almost a year later. We both have similar college degrees. We both like to paint shiny stuff. And, our style in painting, at least insofar as photo realism goes, is similar. There the similarities end. He's west-coast, I'm mid-western. Eddy became a professional painter right out of college in 1970. I began teaching in 1972, painting as time permitted, selling mostly locally. Don Eddy, is nationally known with major gallery representation (Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York). Me...not so much.

G II, 1978, Don Eddy--Photorealism to the point of abstraction.
Dreamreader's Cabinet (detail),
 1985, Don Eddy.Photorealism
begins to drift toward Surrealism.
How does Photorealism differ from Realism? The obvious answer involves the photo(s) from which the Photorealist works. Very often they are simply drawn onto canvas from a projected transparency. Don Eddy uses a grid to draw a "map" of his images on the canvas rather than use projection. Photorealism nearly always involves still-life objects, either in a natural setting like 4VWs (top), or the highly contrived arrangements seen in Eddy's mature work Dreamreader's Cabinet (right). The size of these still-lifes may vary from almost microscopic to almost telescopic, but they are usually static in nature. Realism is much broader in terms of content, if not style, including landscapes, portraits, history, and genre scenes. Photorealism at its best, unlike Realism, flirts with abstraction as seen in Eddy's G II (above) which, at first glance, appears to be by Jackson Pollock, until the mind begins to recognize and arrange Eddy's familiar objects. It is at this point the proverbial WOW factor suddenly kicks in and the viewer begins to question personal preconceptions and the fine line between what would traditionally be considered diametrically opposing styles.

Broken Dreams, 2012, Don Eddy--
moving on to Photorealistic polyptychs.
Every painting has two basic elements, the content, and the execution. With Photorealism, all to often the initial attraction may be the content, but then we're quickly drawn to the execution, upon which we linger, and in the process, completely miss what the artist may be trying to say. Very often that's just as well in that such artists are simply showing off their eye-hand coordination and manual dexterity while, in fact, they have very little to say beyond the visual impact of their work. Eddy's early work, as seen in his 4VWs from 1971, falls into this realm. Some of my own pieces are equally guilty as charged. However the fact is, Photo Realism is a powerful style. The style and content is simple, mostly straight-forward, and unintimidating. Visually, it's exciting, stunning in terms of technique, and usually fairly attractive (often quite beautiful). Yet Photorealism can also be cold, unfeeling, even dehumanizing (Richard Estes, for example). However, at its best, the style has the potential to be quite confrontational, even controversial as to any message the artist chooses to impart. Don Eddy uses Photo-Realism intelligently.

Place Bandit IV, 2009,
Don Eddy 
Outstanding artists, regardless of style or genre are moving targets. Sometimes, like Picasso, they zip around, zigzagging like lunatic loons. Don Eddy's work has evolved at a steady, reasonable pace from German "bugs" to an ambiguous, questioning mode which imposes upon the viewer questions as to meaning rather than preaching a sermon. What does the white whistle in the middle of Dreamreader's Cabinet (above, right) mean in itself and in relation to all the delicate, mirrored transparency nearly overwhelming it? What does the painting's title mean? In fact, the painting begs the question: If the viewer has to struggle to find a message (meaning) does it make that message more or less meaningful? His Broken Dreams (above, left) explores the relationship of the related to the unrelated--four single compositions, two related, coming together to form a larger entity--that which is broken giving way to the unbroken vista of new construction.

If Photorealism sometimes flirts with abstraction, it very often does far more than flirt with it's cousin, Surrealism. They climb into bed together. Surrealism all but demands a technical prowess at least equal to that of Photorealism. However, it also demands a mind capable of divorcing itself from daily reality (and Realism) in search of a deeper, subconscious reality far more difficult to convey than even he most complex portrayal of transparent glassware on glass shelves fronting a mirrored wall. Dali had that knack. Eddy's Place Bandit IV (above, right) begins with the familiar, moves down to the less-so, then befuddles the mind, predisposed to recognition by the first two images, to do so with the third image. Moreover, recognizing that image is but a prelude to recognizing it in relation to the other two. This is not the "easy" art of Photorealism, but the challenging mental gymnastics of Surrealism and abstraction.

After the Storms, 1993, Don Eddy. Is it real or is it memory?

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