At age 36, living in Brooklyn, Austin Eddy paints birds. Situated halfway between figuration and abstraction, his style claims a form of absolute freedom, summoning contradictory influences and blending the rigor of Cubism and the freedom of popular art without taboo, to invite each of us to leave dry land and escape the frame.
Seeuferweg, Sonnenuntergang (2021) by Austin Eddy. Oil, vinyl paint and paper on canvas, 152.4 x 88.9 cm.
Courtesy of Livie Fine Art and the artist.
Photo: Stan Narten
read 21and century confronts us with the obvious: yes, you can be on the cutting edge and paint birds. His own, resulting from intense daydreams and introspections, have been seen in recent years far from the Brooklyn studio nest where he literally brings them to life. At the age of 36, after a short walk between abstraction and figuration, Austin Eddy decided not to choose and will take away from art history the necessary freedom to build a work that is both ambitious and light.
If there’s one thing the 20’sand century has taught us is that when it comes to painting, the subject has absolutely no importance. In any case, there may not be that many, and political or social “commitment” is not the highest form of nobility in the arts. The masterpieces of 20th century art history, those works that made history, are not necessarily notable for their themes: haystacks (Monet), apples (Cézanne), a black square (Malevitch)… narrative intentions, and when the painting speaks to us using its own language, we can access that language: we know, in front of a Rothko, if not to understand (because there is nothing to really understand) at least to feel something unique and intense, and to access this language of painting whose grammar is based on shapes, colors, compositions, techniques and processes. “I was very attracted to Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Constantin Brancusi and finally I was also interested in Matisse, Picasso, Léger and of course Chagall” explains Austin Eddy, whose swans, ducks and other seagulls obviously hold the memory of Brancusi’s bird and its streamlined shape, Matisse’s doves and their paper cutouts.
The pictorial styles and strategies he summons were not necessarily intended to cater to: the flattened space of Cubism and the absolute freedom of popular art.
Born in Boston in 1986, he studied painting and drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York in 2011 after graduating. “I believe one of the first things I produced was a rudimentary drawing of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was a series of scribbles that roughly sketched the shape of a character. I don’t remember if they were green in color or just pencil drawn“, remember. In college, however, he wanted to become an abstract painter. “It was the idea of living like a cowboy, and living like a cowboy meant being free.“Indeed, until 2018, his paintings, essentially abstract, evoked hieroglyphics. Pure abstraction finally seemed to him very disconnected from his artistic project: he needed, it seems, a bit of reality to hang the emotions he wanted to translate. This is the singularity of his painting: erudite, aware of the historical lineage to which he joins, and determined to discuss with it, he forms the ambition of translating emotions, summoning memories or personal experiences. He himself describes his painting as “semiautobiographical”, half abstract, half figurative, that is, fiercely housed in an in-between, a floating space where imagination constantly oscillates between landmarks and distraction. The pictorial styles and strategies he summons were not necessarily intended to meet: the flattened space of Cubism and the absolute freedom of popular art, which his work inevitably makes one think of – including the respect for the decorative intentions of which popular art does not excuse .
With Only Night to Listen (2020-2021) by Austin Eddy. Oil, vinyl paint and paper on canvas, 68.6 x 86.4 cm.
Courtesy of Livie Fine Art and the artist.
Photo: Stan Narten
Austin Eddy is part of this generation of artists who abandoned the idea of excluding this or that style and embraced it all with curiosity. In addition, he himself embraces the experiences of painters of his generation, for whom he reserved an exhibition space in a closet in his apartment. Entitled eddy’s room, this space was housed in a wardrobe measuring 2.50 m high by 1.20 m wide and 60 cm deep. In 2015, there he organized group exhibitions of his personal collection, turning it into a traveling project when the owner of the place became too greedy. “We moved when he asked us for $2.5 million for a flea-infested apartment. He then sold it to a doctor in San Francisco as a second home.” At the Thomassen Gallery in Gothenburg, in 2018, repeated the project eddy’s room inviting 22 artists – and does not intend to stop there.
“The ultimate goal of an artist would be, I think, to let his self disappear for others to find.”
“In college, I aspired to do portraits, but I didn’t want to paint people, so I represented chairs to evoke the people sitting on them,” he explains. How to represent something without representing it literally? How to translate a reality into the language of painting? How to translate the range of colors of a dream or a sensation? “Yes, my work has always been about things I’ve seen, felt or thought. But putting that personal part aside and allowing for a broader interpretation is the ultimate goal, I think. Letting your self disappear for others to find.”
The birds, a motif he now evokes repeatedly, are like portals to the painting of feelings that is his work. Simple, immediately identifiable by the observer, they are also a repertoire of abstract shapes: eyes are concentric circles that can be added together, beaks are pointed shapes, divided in two, which produce more or less widened triangles, etc. “If I could tease with flowers, I would consider that I had really accomplished something.”, Jonathan Gardner, a New York painter of the same generation, observed me recently.
Sandbar On the Hudson (2021) by Austin Eddy. Oil painting and vinyl on canvas, 183 x 122 cm.
© Austin Eddy. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber.
Photo: Kyle Knodell
Yes, definitely, the subject is no longer the problem – and the vanguard spares no effort to renew the provocations. And what better way to renew yourself than to put yourself at odds with your own work rules? “When I work, I try not to follow too many rules. I kind of strive to be a passenger in the paint,” says Austin Eddy, who recently decided to paint from nature. Curious decision for a painter who relies only on his memory linked to events or sensations, and does not intend to portray the immediate reality. But maybe taking things the wrong way (after all, why carry an easel in nature if you’re not painting from a pattern?) is a good way to get out of the box, in habits and certainties.
“When I paint, somehow I try to be a passenger in the painting”
He and his partner (New York painter Shara Hughes, whose stunning landscapes are also purely imaginary) rented a home in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. This was located directly opposite the house where the painter Thomas Cole (1801-1848) lived, founder of an American pictorial movement in the second half of the 19th century characterized by a very strong realism. There, armed with portable easels, they cycled through the breathtaking landscapes and declared themselves open to the joys of painting “outdoors”, the chakras of inspiration wide open. “Even though these new paintings were not made in the most literal sense of the expression ‘en plein air’, they were in tune with the way Frederic Edwin Church worked outside, made sketches and then went back to painting in his studio. I had the firm intention of painting in the middle of the landscape, but above all I ended up experiencing it as a necessity, a way to rebalance myself and feel the world again. I took from him a peace and tranquility that I felt was important to bring back to the workshop.” With its false airs of naive painting, of popular art with decorative aspirations, Austin Eddy’s painting is undoubtedly a unique mirror of the art present, where no style seems taboo anymore, but where the ambition of the avant-garde has not yielded. It is also a painting that is absolutely aware of what it is today: a kind of experience for the spectator. “I’m not sure I want people to get anything out of my paintings other than a certain kind of experience. Something that, hopefully, will be able to make them forget to look at their phone.”
Austin Eddy is represented by the Berggruen gallery and regularly collaborates with the Livie Fine Art gallery.