Eric White: All Of This Has Not Occurred
Martha Otero Gallery, Los Angeles
November 9, 2013 - January 18, 2014
by Shana Nys Dambrot
California lost Eric White to the bright lights and big city lure of New York several years ago, but there’s something about the things he paints and the way he paints them that will always be West-Side. In his impossibly tight and preternaturally crisp renderings, he is not afraid to use the tricks of advanced graphic design and legitimate realism skills -- or to exude his love of cheeky, retro-flair pop culture, especially film and music -- especially noir, sci-fi, mid-century rom-com, schmaltzy rock, and postmodern soul.
The gallery’s project room was dedicated to a mini-survey (literally) of White’s most iconic and popular paintings, White hired Xiamen Unique Oil Painting Co Ltd. in China to paint 1/3 scale oil replicas of these works. The group of 14 canvases was installed at knee-height; and while it may or may not have been conceived in humor, the truth is that it was a really helpful exercise, doing the job of presenting the story of an evolution in his content and style that eventually resulted in the new works installed at full (and impressively large) scale in the main gallery. The first thing by contrast that you notice in the new is that the percentage of “real” in White’s brand of surreal -- that is, the ratio of reality to fantasy -- has shifted dramatically toward the real. Actually that’s not quite right; it’s more that the way people and objects look in the new work is increasingly normative in appearance, yet more fictionalized in its content. Previous work often depicted recognizable scenes with extreme mannerism and interference patterns; now White’s sensibility reads more like satire or fan-fiction. He interprets cultural archetypes with a passionate mimicry, both honoring and subverting the cultural paradigms by replacing the contents of his perfect forms with new, tweaked narratives.
The syntax and handwriting (heck, just the fact of hand-written letters) in Rom Com (2013, oil on canvas, 96 x 42 inches) invoke a bygone era of flirty missives; the language is deliberately obscure and ambiguous. “Jim -- Sorry I missed your call. It was swell hearing from you. I will merge into you at 7:30. -- Fran.” In Mommie Issues 2: The Reckoning (2013, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches), the magazine ads in the open issue on the desk in the foreground, where a man’s hand doodles on top of a Mad Men dream of sexy appliances, look right at first glance and fall apart on inspection. The intrigue of sorting them out is almost enough to distract from the naked pubis of a woman on the other side of the broad wooden desk. She in turn is almost enough to distract from the wide shot of the image, when it’s revealed within the composition that this scene is on a movie screen, in a darkened theater, in whose back rows the viewer has been seated -- and is either next to or themselves engaged in the act of texting from his seat. Another movie-theatre work is PENTAPLEX Coming Attractions (2013, oil on canvas, 84 x 144 inches), in which three screens play trailers for bizarro-world science fiction (one in black and white) within a panopticon theater space that makes gorgeous architectural poetry but would be chaos to experience.
In The Lobby (2013, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches) White presents a cropped view of walls decorated with dozens of movie posters, each one its own masterpiece of invented titles and imagery - these movies never happened ouside of White's imagination. The meaning and emotional effect of these imagined movie posters depend on the flawless execution of the look, because that lays the foundation for the flair and the funny. Too intense to just be a joke, humor is still a huge part of the appeal of work like this. Like the trick of writing the perfect pop song or B-movie, the idea is to create something familiar enough to hook audiences straight off, but strange enough to be fresh, and radical enough to be memorable.
for more visit: ewhite.com
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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