Huzzah! The first Matter Observed post of the new year is to announce that I won Inhabitat’s Top Original Reporting for this story I wrote (and photographed) on the Eames Case Study House last month. And in case you missed it, I also wrote a Matter Observed post and made a short video about the modern design mecca earlier this year. A nice start to to 2013!
Here’s to more designing, more writing, more photographing, more blogging, and more discovering this New Year. I cannot wait to share all of this with you, right here on Matter Observed.
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.
On the road again... this time to Duluth, Minnesota
You can sail to Duluth, Minnesota from the Atlantic Ocean via a long (2,300 miles) and sinuous route, chartering a series of rivers, canals and passages, through four of the five Great Lakes until you finally reach Duluth Harbor and the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge. Total trip time, about nine days. You can also get to the “Emerald City on the Hill” via U.S. Route 53 in far less time (a little over eight hours from Chicago by car). I did the latter and drove into Duluth on a crisp December day just after the sun had set.
Hillside view of Duluth and Lake Superior
Coming down the hill into the light bespeckled town, I could faintly make out the vastness of Lake Superior and thought to myself, “Man, you don’t get this kind of view of our Great Lake back in Chicago.” It was spectacular. I could not wait to observe and explore the town I had heard so much about. At that moment, I slowed my speed down a bit and turned up the volume – it was Medicine Magazines by Duluth’s own, Low.
Watching youth hockey in sub freezing temperatures is the norm in Duluth
One of the first things that I observed about Duluth is that they take their hockey very seriously. It’s a way of life for many Duluthians, with outdoor hockey rinks in just about every neighborhood and park. Frank Gehry would love it here.
An early 20th Century east end Duluth mansion
Duluth has always been known for its commerce and trade, beginning in 1679 when French explorer Daniel Greysolon Du Luth (the town’s namesake) arrived to help optimize the local fur trading industry. During the beginning of the 20th Century, it was the leading port in the United States, surpassing New York and Chicago. At one point, Duluth was home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world.
Dylan's boyhood home (yellow house on the right)
Duluth was also the birthplace and home to one Robert Allen Zimmerman for the first six years of his life. He would later move to Dinkytown in Minneapolis where he started introducing himself as Bob Dylan. The house on 519 N. 3rd Avenue East sits on a quiet hillside overlooking downtown Duluth and Lake Superior. One observation… you most certainly don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows from here.
The 'American Mariner' coming into port
The good majority of Duluth’s economy is driven, both literally and figuratively, by these freighters – commonly known as “lakers” and “salties” (for ocean-going vessels), hauling coal, wheat, and taconite from the Iron Range to the rest of the world.
Duluth's show (and traffic) stopping Aerial Lift Bridge
Originally built in 1905 and most recently upgraded in 1929, the Aerial Lift Bridge is the first of only two vertical lift bridges ever built in the United States and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Canal Park has a maritime museum and is always buzzing with activity. The bridge is raised between 25-30 times daily, letting freighters in and out of port. As the bridge went up, I observed an interesting and apparently customary exchange of friendly horn blowing between the freighters and bridge control as ships pass under, which can be heard from town up into the hills of Duluth.
My brother, Gwydion (left), and myself outside Fitger's
There are many great restaurants and shops in Duluth to observe, including the historic DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace. One of my favorites was Fitger’s, where there’s a historic hotel, shopping, a brewery museum, and the oldest continually operating industry in Duluth and Minnesota’s oldest brew pub (1881), Fitger’s Brewhouse. Yuuummmm.
The David Salmela designed headquarters for Loll, Hawk's Boots
My final observation was of the Hawk’s Boots facility in West Duluth, where I met with Greg Benson, CEO and co-founder of outdoor furniture design company, Loll. Greg generously made us some tasty espressos and we proceeded to tour the David Salmela (my new favorite architect) designed building, where he explained its early beginnings, his company’s day-to-day operations, and a sneak peek into the future (look for this exclusive Matter Observed post soon). Very exciting stuff.
Headin' home... very, very slowly
On my final day as I left Duluth, my first thought was, “how the heck am I going to get out of here?!” There were 17″ of snow on the ground from the night before, and it wasn’t stopping anytime soon. Chicago most certainly would’ve shut down, but in Duluth it was business-as-usual. Once I had made it down the perilously slippery roads and onto the main highway, I couldn’t help but think of how beautiful and cool the city of Duluth turned out to be, blowing away all of my expectations. From the people, to the sites, to its natural beauty, even in the incredibly cold weather, Duluth is a special place – a place more people should observe for themselves.
A very special THANKS to all the kind people of Duluth, especially my gracious hosts and dear friends, Andrew and Sigrún (and the world’s most creative six year old boy, Odinn), who welcomed me into their beautiful home on the hill.
The Witkovs outside their Bucktown gallery, 360SEE
I first visited 360SEE in the fall of 2009 while shopping for a client who wanted to have that elusive pièce de résistance for his living room. He wanted something that house guests would be drawn to, “like a moth to light,” so that he could tell its back story, opening up dialogue and sparking conversation. He also wanted the piece to have been made in good conscience, i.e. sustainable. As it turned out, Jordan Witkov’s Bucktown gallery was my client’s proverbial candy store, with magnetically strange, beautiful, functional, and sustainably made pieces alike. Jordan (and his pooch, Homer) greeted us at the door, welcomed us with a firm handshake and a smile, and proceeded to give us a tour, telling us the sometimes funny but always fascinating stories behind each piece. I recently caught up with Jordan to get his story, and to see what’s new at 360SEE:
Matter Observed: Jordan, tell us a little about your background and your motivation to start 360SEE.
Jordan: I received my BFA with a dual degree in painting and printmaking and electronic based media from Carnegie Mellon University. I have spent my professional career working in and around galleries, sales, as a graphic designer / art director, and in visual merchandising.
'Menagerie of the Obsolete' By Jennifer Khoshbin (2010)
My motivation to start 360SEE was fueled by my passion for art and design but also by doing something that had never been done before. While there are numerous fine art and functional galleries throughout the world, 360SEE differs in that all of the artists and designers that exhibit through the gallery address various levels of sustainable practice in their work.
Matter Observed: Being a close observer to the art/design world, have you seen any notable changes in the Chicago art/design scene over the last 5 years? If so, what do you think are the reasons for this change?
Jordan: I think that the recent rise of apartment galleries, pop-up galleries, and art and design collectives have changed opportunities for Chicago area artists and designers. In the last couple years, otherwise unrented and inexpensive spaces have given birth to many more opportunities, especially for young or early career artists in Chicago.
'Tired Lounge' By Leo Kempf (2010)
Matter Observed: More opportunities means more artists, which is always good for Chicago’s cultural scene. But as consumers of art/design, how does one go about starting to collect? This is a fairly common question we hear from some of our younger clients at Matter & Order. Are there any insider tips to remember when looking for and purchasing a piece?
Jordan: First, buy what you love! It doesn’t matter if it is a $.50 purchase at a flea market, a thousand dollar purchase at a gallery, or if you are jumping in with both feet as a blue-chip art and design collector – if you don’t love it, what’s the point of having it?
It is good to work with a gallery or professional that you trust. However, while interior designers, art consultants, or gallerists can tell you why they think a work is good, important, and why it makes sense in your design scheme – if you don’t want to look at it every day, it doesn’t make you smile, trigger a memory, evoke an emotion, and so on – wait to find a piece that does.
'RD-4 Legs Limited Edition' By COHDA (2007)
You should always buy quality pieces that you will want to keep over time. I often find young collectors, both in age and experience, say they are looking for a painting that would fit a perfect spot in their rental, or 1.5 bedroom condo, or that matches their red couch. While these can be valid concerns, I like to pose the following questions to new collectors:
How long are you going to live in that rental property? Do you plan on still living in that condo 5 years from now? And, is that the last couch you will ever own?
Unlike the typical answers to those questions – “not long” or “no” – a piece of art, a well designed piece of functional art or furniture is something that can be enjoyed beyond a single home and upholstery color choice, often over the course of a lifetime or even generations.
Matter Observed: Of all the incredible art and designed objects you’ve housed at 360SEE over the years, what has been your favorite piece?
'Robot' By David Todd Trost (2010)
Jordan: My favorite piece at the gallery right now, and maybe of all time, is the nearly 4′ tall “Robot” by Chicago artist David Todd Trost. Trost’s terracotta robot stands 46″ tall with a wing span of 41″ wide and a girth of 14″ deep. The piece is impressive in its own right, with a combination of thrown, slab and coil, and cast ceramic techniques – but the robot is also functional. The interior of the bowl shaped hips holds a 10″ speaker wired for sound with a 1/8″ jack that runs into a small Ephiphone amp from which you can hook up an ipod, stereo, or even your guitar.
Matter Observed: Tell us about your current exhibit, Doorbusters, which runs through the the middle of January (1/16/11).
Jordan: The show, which does not have to be dissected to be enjoyed, was constructed to be layers of thought upon playful and approachable work. Each artist created work that referenced their memories of childhood holiday consumerism, and consumerism in general. However, at the same time the artist participating (and all artist that show through 360SEE) are conscious of the impact of man, and in some way focuses their art making practice within the confines of more sustainable media.
Matter Observed: So, what is next on tap at 360SEE?
Jordan: Funk-tion. You’ll just have to stay tuned!
Matter Observed: Lastly, and just for fun, Matter Observed would like to know the answers to the following:
Last author read: Don Rickles “Rickles’ Book – A Memoir” Last song heard: “My Life is Right” by Big Star just came on Last food consumed: A banana and 2 clementines Last drink imbibed: Gingersnap tea (it is before 5pm)
Matter Observed: Jordan, thank you for your time.
Jordan: Thanks for your interest in 360SEE.
You can visit Jordan’s gallery and see what we’re talking about for yourself.