Artist paints lives
Published: Thursday, October 29, 2009
Updated: Thursday, January 13, 2011 07:01
The Way We Weren't," a psychologically angled exhibit of paintings by Nicole Eisenman, exposes society's unhealthy refusal to recognize depression by contemplating the varying ways people cope. The Tang's 17th opener explores an individual's search for a community, and the way internal grievance affects external appearance. All characters are portrayed as their inner emotions - some are green, some are transparent, some are even mummies and skeletons. "There's wit there - it's being earnest," said Megan Hyde, curatorial assistant at the Tang. This collection veers away from the artist's previous concentrations. Nudity, iconoclast figures such as a wanton Wonder Woman, and the contrast between detailed drawings and sketches, summarize her earlier work. "It was a raunchy and sexy style, attacking gender and sexuality," Hyde said. Though Eisenman has departed from her libidinous focus, it still plays into her current work like "The Session," depicting a physically ill patient at a psychiatrist's office. Dirty feet paired with an irritated nose and ears would signal a physical illness, yet the phallic- shaped vase holding a metaphorically wilting, white flower points to a mental issue, such as sexual frustration. In an interview with "Art Forum," Eisenman discusses the sources of depression. "Sadness arises from particular circumstances, but it can move from the mind into the body, from something focused into something more general-a lethargy, that pit in your stomach," Eisenman said. Projecting the mental state as a physical one, an observation indigenous in the human experience, makes her art undeniably relatable. Eisenman has an affinity for the viewer's relationship with the characters. Her scenes flourish with several themes, including violence, sexuality and conflict, so that there are multiple perspectives and interpretations. "Beasley Street," a public scene crowded with anonymity, shows a bit of humor in the frame of an apartment window. An artist winks at the viewer while painting a portrait of a nude model - a portrait from the neck up. Outside this rare hint of humor lie the more prevalent, darker themes. Violence is apparent in "Beasley Street", between the dog fight, a man being dragged into the darkness and a frowning adolescent who passes by it all, wearing a T-shirt that says, "Rock out with your Glock out," referencing GLOCK, an organization that manufactures weapons. Yet there's an irony in the gloomy thread of her collection. Although the characters are often sadistic or disheartened, it's still a pleasure to observe them. "Some may feel camaraderie with the characters and some may understand their loneliness," Hyde said. With this exhibition, Eisenman said she hopes her inspiration from French impressionists and German expressionists is evident. The paintings "Brooklyn Biergarten II" and "Biergarten At Night," have similar compositions to Pierre Renoir's "Le Moulin de la Galette," where a crowd of people gathers to dance, drink and mingle. "The beer garden seems to be the equivalent, for certain residents of 21st-century Brooklyn, of the grand public promenades and social spaces of the 19th century," Eisenman said. She continues by explaining beer gardens are where people go to socialize, to find commiseration and to search for a shared opinion that it's a crooked world, irrationally obsessed with happiness. "It is healthy to look at sadness in the world, and in yourself, and to dwell on it for a little while," Eisenman said she believes. Her art encourages viewers to ruminate on the idea that sorrow is as necessary as delight, to recognize the physical alterations that moods have on the body and finally, to sympathize with the lonely character in search of someone similar.
"The Way We Weren't" exhibition will be on display from Sept. 26 - Jan. 3 in the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery.