When you work in a medium as laden with associations and meaning as blood, your work tends to take on a psychologically heavier, darker cast not found when your métier is oil or bronze or wood.
Artists who work in blood, whether in the performative bloodletting of artists Ron Athey and Chris Burden or the actual painting-in-blood of Atlanta's own Robert Sherer, bring the squirm factor and a wealth of other associations to their work by their choice of such visceral material.
New York-based artist Jordan Eagles, who works with blood as a substitute for paint, has not surprisingly run into problems because of the provocative nature of his chosen medium. According to a profile piece in the New York Times, Eagles was once pulled from an exhibition at a New Jersey hospital for fear of alienating the patients with his sanguine canvases.
But unlike the fraught, Gothic timbre of artist Sherer's paintings done in blood, the blood in Eagles' work is hardly macabre or shocking. It may actually be some of the least frightening, nonconfrontational and, at times, even pleasing work done in blood since your last bloodletting at the Red Cross.
In fact, Eagles' work can be quite elegant and graphic, especially when he stifles his impulse to do more, pares back and lets his splatters and gobs of the stuff work against his white backdrops and glossy surfaces. Coated with layers of resin, Eagles' paintings have the slick, glassy look of ceramics and that surface creates a studious, almost comforting distance between the gore and the viewer.
Eagles' blood is legitimately procured from a Jersey slaughterhouse, though it's hard not to think of more nefarious, "Sopranos" sources. In Eagles' paintings, the blood clots into black beads and at other times inexplicably crystallizes like ice and assumes colors from a reddish rust to a dark molasses brown. In one of the most interesting pieces, Eagles has allowed the blood to dry, and tiny pieces flake away, like a dandelion's fluff blowing in the wind.
Where Eagles runs into trouble, strangely enough, is where the gimmick is less thematically blood-centered and more about using it as just another interesting medium mixed in with cobalt blue or pieces of cheesecloth.
Gallery owner Benjamin Krause admits he was trying to show the range of Eagles' work by including both the minimalist blood studies such as a captivating trio of works enigmatically titled "FK3," "FK5" and "IFK" and Eagles' more materially over-the-top work. But that latter work is far less interesting, and often just uninspiring, a bit New Age and celestial. The "world," when one thinks of DNA, identity and humanness, in some sense can really be contained in a single drop of blood. But it is far more interesting when Eagles mulls that idea with judicious, very minimal incorporation of other materials.
The more embellishment Eagles brings to his work, the less interesting and arresting it becomes as in an elaborate, gaudy sunburst in blue, copper powder and blood called "Centerpoint."
It is in specificity that Eagles does best, when his paintings work as a kind of microscope through which we can examine the strange landscapes and character of this substance we all have such an intimate relationship with and yet know so little about.
Though of possible interest to fans of that strange combination of the surreal and the ornately decorative that often attends the figurative work of Eastern European and Russian artists, Denmark-based, Polish-born Barbara Wilson's work makes for strange bedfellows with Eagles' abstraction. Her critical take on greed and environmental destruction is juxtaposed with an often surprisingly sweet painterly style incorporating lollipop trees, flowers and gold leaf. It's a take on life that suggests a childish, romantic vision of the world colliding with something more Flowers in the Attic.
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