Studio Visit: Austin Eddy

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Rafael Soldi: A body in transit is now on view at the Frost Museum, Miami through December 4
Austin Eddy at his Brooklyn Studio
Austin Eddy at his Brooklyn Studio

Austin Eddy is a Brooklyn-based artist from Boston who has temporarily relocated to Atlanta to prepare for his upcoming solo exhibition at Get This! Gallery [May 24-July 19].  We met in his Brooklyn Navy Yard studio in late 2013 to talk about the particulars of his painting practice, where his inspiration comes from, and the place of narrative in his work.

Lilly Lampe: How long have you been in this studio?

Austin Eddy: A year now. When I first moved to New York I was in Tribeca working for a guy who gave me space. It was sweet, but I didn’t have an apartment or a studio, so I was couch-surfing and working for him.  Then, winter of last year [2012] I moved to Greenpoint and got this studio.

LL: When did you move to New York?

AE: I got my BA at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 2009 and moved to New York in fall of 2012, so it’s been two years. I realized that today because I was packing up paintings for an old teacher.

LL: How does this anniversary feel?

AE: It’s weird; I had no idea it had been that long. I guess in the big picture it isn’t that long, but right now it feels like it.

LL: What was your work like when you got here?

AE: Terrible.

LL: [laughs] Were you a painter then?

AE: Yeah, trying to be one, trying to learn how to paint. I’m still trying to figure that out.

LL: Looking around your studio, I see a couple of works in progress; how do you decide to orient your works in progress and what size to tackle?

AE: Usually I arrange the works by size. I’ve just brought these out for this studio visit today and another one later.

Work by Austin Eddy, who has an upcoming show at Get This! Gallery in Atlanta.
Work by Austin Eddy, who has an upcoming show at Get This! Gallery in Atlanta.

LL: Who is that one with?

AE: It’s a gallery in Bushwick. Their program is very minimal, cool abstraction.

LL: That’s interesting since almost all of your work has a figurative element, though there is a degree of abstraction happening. In the more abstract, pattern-heavy works, you seem to start with a rectangular field but in your figurative paintings there’s something entirely different going on. Could you talk about your decision-making process in painting?

AE: They all start differently. In this one, the rectangle is supposed to be a curtain with people behind it, while this one is a lady crying over a baby. I don’t know what this one will be yet. Probably bones on a table, with people around.

LL: It’s very interesting where you choose to start, like beginning in the center with the figure here or with the curtain knowing you’ll have something emerging from behind it, as opposed to a more traditional idea of painting where you start with the ground or background layers. What inspires this approach?

AE: It’s because it’s all on raw canvas, so I can’t build the paint up. The pieces have to go next to each other to retain the surface quality, like charcoal there and paper glued on and stuff on top. In a way, it’s traditional painting in that I move from thin to thick, but it’s also like building a puzzle with pieces.

LL: Why raw canvas?

AE: At first, I was using raw canvas in response to my life. When I first moved here, I was moving my studio every three months and my work was getting ruined—it was all bad anyway—but it was getting ruined past the point of fixing. I was also spending a lot of time prepping surfaces for other artists as a studio assistant, so when it came to my own practice I had a distaste for it. So the last move I made, I had two weeks left in my space , so I packed up everything except gesso and ink and limited myself to working with those two things on raw canvas. I really liked the rawness of the surface as a way to work with painting in a direct way, but also one that was more intuitive. Later, I added oil pastel, cardboard, and spray-paint.

Its a tricky thing, its cheap because you spend less money on gesso, but in the end you spend more money on canvas. With  raw canvas there’s no going back, which means poor decisions and uncomfortable marks cannot be erased or removed.

LL: Here’s a rare work with color. It has corrugated cardboard as well. Are you still working with that?

AE: Not anymore, but yeah, I was doing a bunch of cardboard paintings at the time.

LL: You’ve retained the hatching pattern of the cardboard in some of your other paintings.

AE: Yeah, it’s more interesting, I guess, and less of a hassle.

LL: So these stacks are always here, rather than out for display. I see a relation between how they’re arranged and the linear lines of the painting.

AE: [laughs] It’s the only way to keep things tidy.

LL: Is keeping your studio in order important for you?

Sculptural works by Austin Eddy.
Sculptural works by Austin Eddy.

AE: Yeah, because it gets really hard when you’re working and you can’t find things and have to stop painting to find it and then can’t remember what you were doing. When that happens, it really interrupts the process.

LL: How long has portraiture been present in your work?

AE: Two years now. I try to open it up. I painted animals for a while, still lifes, shells …

LL: What’s going on with the introduction of yellow in this work?

AE: It’s untreated newsprint. It yellows because of the acidity.

LL: So the yellows are a combination of untreated canvas, newsprint, and charcoal?

AE: Yup.

LL: What about this smooth opaque white here?

AE: It’s caulking. This one is caulking with airbrush on top. I also use enamel, oil paint, markers, and acrylic.

LL: Do you use these different mediums to achieve different effects, like the smoothness and faded yellow? Is that intentional?

AE: Not really, but it works out in the end. It’s just a way to paint without having to paint.

LL: What do you mean?

AE: As opposed to having to make paint marks or brush strokes, I can substitute a big black shape without having to use a brush.

LL: Why avoid the brush? Is it to get away from a painterly effect?

AE: Fewer decisions, so I can focus on the more important ones, like composition and tone and pattern. I’m not as interested in having to worry about how a white shape is going to be painted in.

LL: Matisse was concerned with working as fast as his thinking, which was why he was using those papers and cutouts.

AE: That makes a lot of sense. Those are awesome paintings.

LL: Is Matisse an artist you look to in particular? Or do you have other heroes from the period?

AE: I like him, Picasso, Braque, all those dudes. Rousseau and Ensor, too.

LL: Your use of trees and birds is reminiscent of Marsden Hartley.

AE: I like him a lot, too. His paintings are beautiful.

LL: When you’re installing a show, how do you decide the placement?

AE: I try to see which look best next to each other, and also try to figure out how to break up rhythm. I wouldn’t want four paintings of figures next to each other, unless they were supposed to be in a group.

LL: Do you find that people have a tendency to try to create a narrative between your paintings?

AE: I haven’t heard anyone try to do that between paintings, but people do try to construct them within each one. When they’re displayed in a large grid, it becomes more about painting language. So you can have a really simple one next to a more quote-unquote complex one and it somehow validates the other one, or allows things to make more sense. It gives you room to have a busy painting. But when it’s many busy paintings together, it gets cramped, as opposed to having room to breathe.

LL: There are a lot of recurrent shapes here, like a wineglass. There’s a fun play because with a few lines you evoke a wineglass and its transparency. And here’s a bottle.

AE: These are about partying and sadness, or the day after a party and having to clean up and feeling hungover.

Works in progress by Eddy.
Works in progress by Eddy.

LL: Now there you go, building a narrative.

AE: [laughs] Yeah.

LL: The formal play, using just a few lines, sets up foreground and background in a really intriguing way.

Christian Siriano on view at SCAD FASH in Atlanta through October 9

AE: A lot of it is about the economy of mark-making. I try to treat the paintings more like drawing than painting. It prevents them from becoming precious, so I can work through more ideas.

LL: The curtain conceit seems to play into this as well.

AE: Some of these ended with the curtain, to block out other elements in the painting and cover things that weren’t working.

LL: So how do you reconcile this contrast between drawing and painting?

AE: I don’t really think about it; it was just a decision I made, to stop trying to make work that felt overly labored. I find painting to be most intriguing when it seems free, when it feels sincere as opposed to masked.

LL: Are the figures who populate your canvases based on real people or are they fictional?

AE: They’re mostly autobiographical, and based on relationships. They’re about love and dealing with that, and all that sort of stuff.

Austin Eddy at his studio in Brooklyn.
Austin Eddy at his studio in Brooklyn.

LL: Is it important that the viewer get that feeling?

AE: It’s just important that the paintings have some sort of feeling; otherwise they’re dead. When they’re too labored, all the emotions become flat. In the end, it’s all about editing. And they can’t all be serious all the time. That’s why I do the birds, moons, horses, and pots. Sometimes feeling all the time is exhausting and I have to take a break.

LL: Do you consider your drawings preparatory sketches for other works?

AE: No, they’re separate works. I’ve started doing drawings with carbon paper. I’ve been doing airbrush with oil paint as well. I don’t want to make drawings that look like outright drawings. Otherwise it’s not exciting and I can’t stay invested in it for very long. So with the carbon paper ones, I lay it down and start drawing and I’ll lose track of where the pencil was and it will get wonky in ways.

LL: It gives them a nice sense of spontaneity. In your drawings and paintings, the figures can really dominate.

AE: I used to do smaller people, but I do think of them as portraits, not so much as stories.

LL: Is your environment a factor in your work? Do you anticipate living in Atlanta causing any shifts?

AE: I made some of these in Atlanta… I guess not.  This one, I was with Shara [Hughes] on an island off the coast of Connecticut, and this one I did after leaving Georgia.

Work by Austin Eddy that may be featured at his upcoming show at Get This! Gallery.
Work by Austin Eddy that may be featured at his upcoming show at Get This! Gallery.

LL: So there may be aspects of individual paintings that reference a place for you.

AE: Right. Though if I move to Atlanta and start doing Civil War paintings …

LL: [laughs]

AE: It might happen.

Lilly Lampe is an arts writer and literary critic living in Brooklyn. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Art in America,, Art Papers, and Modern Painters.

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