Eric Nash: Western Pictures
April 15th – May 13th, 2017
KP Projects Chinatown
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, MAY 2017
If your tiny neon-riddled Instagram feed had an opposite, it would be something like one of Eric Nash’s huge, nuanced, finely subtle charcoal drawings on paper. Aside from their quasi- monumental scale, which is far more architectural than the idea of a charcoal drawing’s intimacy suggests, there is the matter of the artist’s exceptionally patient, analog, durational process and technique. Despite inescapable visual references to photography and cinema in the black-and-white, realist-style compositions, the physical presence of the work both builds on and defies conventions of classic fine art photography in the same way it transcends assumptions about drawing. Psychologically charged and luminous, they are deceptively simple, hiding whole worlds in their expanses of inky shadows. They do not pop or bling or scream or sizzle; they simmer, they whisper, they engage through mystery rather than spectacle. With shades of Edward Hopper, Ed Ruscha, Anish Kapoor, and the awkwardly wonderful early Alfred Stieglitz photos of nighttime in the city, the drawings in Western Pictures are quiet, slightly dangerous dreams about a dream.
Nash has a preoccupation with the quirky angles and kitschy personality of the classic freeway, business, and roadside signs that punctuate the LA region’s streets, or the ubiquitous cemented glow of the backyard pool by moonlight. In real life not only the wild fonts but also the eccentric palettes and stark fields of blue sky behind such retro landmarks make for photogenic, Pop-inflected confections.
But rendered in Nash’s monochromatic palette, the emotion and timeline both shift toward the past, toward the literary, the nostalgic, and of course, the cinematic -- especially film noir. The scale of the work keeps the art tethered to a modern sensibility, even as its style pulls the layers of memory apart. Both optically and cognitively, it is an experience. And then at a certain point, one’s attention inevitably shifts to marvel at the scope of the labor that produced the work. Charcoal is a dense, physical, infinitely malleable medium that redefines the notion of getting one’s hands dirty. It is a slow, sensual, sensitive prospect at any scale, and a gift for replicating real optical phenomena of seeing and perception, and a feather-light touch with deep pigment are requisite for full effect. But in many ways it is actually the charcoal itself which is the true subject of Nash’s work. He has devised a multi-faceted technique for reconfiguring pure charcoal into a variety of textures and thicknesses to replicate other kinds of drawing tools, yet to be always only working in charcoal. He is chasing the most pure black he can sense, and his choice of images in large part is meant to accommodate and showcase the special gifts of his chromatic muse. WM
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Whitehot Magazine, KCET’s Artbound, Flaunt, Fabrik, Art and Cake, Artillery, Palm Springs Life, Riot Material, West Hollywood Lifestyle, Jenkem, and Porter & Sail. She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and exhibition catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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