There’s a quote attributed to Degas that goes, “Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.” If there is any truth to this statement, I can safely say that this recent SAIC grad and Chicago-based painter hasn’t a clue. His work imposes an immediate significance and challenges the viewer to look beyond all the vivid colors, clashing patterns, and varying tones to uncover something more than mere playful composition. Yet, at the same time, Austin Eddy’s new series of paintings are often upbeat and playful; with color put down in youthful brushstrokes rendering an original naiveté that is all but absent in serious, contemporary art. His painting style uses “accessibility” as a means to an end, inviting the viewer inside with familiar color and then keeping them there with radiant detail. Matter Observed wanted to dig a little deeper into Austin’s world, so we sat down with the Boston native and asked him a few questions:
Matter Observed: Every artist has influential moments that help shape who they are, what they do, and how they do it. Can you recall an influential event in your life that has shaped who you are as an artist?
Austin: In regard to trying to pin point an exact moment that has been most influential in my life and something that has shaped me as an artist, I would have to say it was the first time I said “no” and realized there were options.
Matter Observed: Looking at your past and current work I’m struck, most notably, by your use of color, texture, and pattern. Do you see this in your mind’s eye as you paint, or do you source this imagery from somewhere physical, or elsewhere?
Austin: I would say that most of the time the objects I paint or make come from the mind’s eye, but that always seems to be influenced by the outside world and things from someplace outside of me.
Matter Observed: Influences from the outside world, like textiles?
Austin: Yes, textiles, but I also like patterns carved or printed. I have an interest in patterns like how stones are laid or the pottery shard placements in the Watts Towers. Sometimes I am drawn to naturally occurring patterns like shadows of the leaves in a tree when the sun shines through them. All in all I like almost all pattern.
Matter Observed: Your work can’t escape comparisons to Fauvisim, especially to the works of Matisse. Tell us about your technique and the mediums used to create these two dimensional, movement of color compositions.
Austin: Previously, I used to use anything that I thought would be fun to use or that would make a cool mark, texture, or surface. Now I have toned it down (kind of) and just use acrylic paint and lots of water, and some times I’ll work wet paint into wet paint, but that happens less and less it seems. Hopefully in the near future, perhaps even tomorrow, I will start figuring out oil painting and try to work that into my visual vocabulary.
Matter Observed: In your new series of paintings of which the subject matter is primarily a chair and a side table, you talk about how the absence of the human figure “invites a narrative about the person who may inhabit these spaces” and “makes room for the viewer to inhabit” them. You go on to say that you’re “interested in using the interior as a vessel to ask questions about the failure of aesthetic environments and examine the complex history behind décor and style.” What would you say this failure is attributed to, and how has this failure effected you as an artist?
Austin: I think that looking into the rich history of décor and style is a way to explore paint. It allows me to push it around in all sorts of ways and sometimes some of it is exciting. But beyond a tool to make a painting, I find that décor and style often times fail at truly representing what they were intended to represent. All one can see is commodity and choice of arranging pre-made goods. I find this situation very interesting. As they say stuff gets lost in translation.
I also think that personal failure and working though it is what makes “making” and “viewing” art so interesting. Failure is important to me and how I go about creating images – a problem arises and something falls apart and I get to figure out how to rearrange, reorganize and rework and try again to make a harmonious image. Working though a problem hopefully gets represented in the end result and its traces and transformations can be seen by a viewer – and seeing someone else’s decisions is always interesting, good or bad.
Matter Observed: We know Chicago and the arts go hand in hand. In 1914 the mayor of Chicago, Carter Harrison, formed a coalition asking industrialists and bankers to promote the arts by selecting and purchasing works by local artists and exhibiting them in their public spaces. In the 1980′s, mayor Harlod Washington helped bolster the city’s neighborhood arts scene by funding local arts initiatives. And, love him or hate him, soon to be exiting “mayor for life” mayor Richard M. Daley has, with the guidance of his better half, Maggie Daley, and with the help of Chicago’s tax payers, made Chicago a true arts lover’s destination. Politics aside, how has Chicago, the place, helped you develop as an artist? How does “place” influence you and your art?
Austin: Physical geographical place really does not play much role in terms of influence beyond where I get to work, but I’m sure some of its characteristics seep in through the cracks.
Chicago as a place, though, has helped me quite a lot as a developing artist – it is where I have gotten to meet so many amazing people, make so many awesome friends and get to talk to tons of rad individuals about their work. All in all Chicago has been good to me.
Matter Observed: Lastly, Matter Observed would like to know the answers to the following very important questions:
Last author read: Silvia Plath/ Clement Greenberg
Last song heard: Skanky Dog
Last food consumed: Carrots and hummus (waiting for pizza)
Last drink imbibed: Beer
Matter Observed: Austin Eddy, thank you for your time.
Austin: It was my pleasure, thank you.
Austin Eddy’s work has been included in exhibits across the country, including the Insider Art at Thrones Gallery, Ablution at the Crossley Gallery at Ringling College of Art & Design, Meta-Paint at Advocate Space at Harvard University, Artist’s Run Chicago at Hyde Park Art Center, Covert Prestige at Deckelew & Bensley, and Amazing kids doing amazing shit at the Mencia Gallery. A solo exhibition of Eddy’s work entitled I feel better already, or at least I think I do at Golden Gallery was heralded as one of the best shows of the year by several publications. His work can currently be seen at Jolie Laide Gallery in Philadelphia, and HungryMan Gallery in San Francisco. He is in between exhibitions in Chicago, but you can always view more of Austin’s work on his website jaustineddy.com.