Monday, January 30, 2012

The Metaphysical Pictures of Wadsworth and White

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been thinking a lot about the distortion of space in the imagination. Recently, I discovered a contemporary painter that seems to be dabbling in a few of the ideas I was writing about.

Eric White creates collages of remembered characters from old pictures, trapped in impossible rooms; sometimes impossible cars. I feel a little embarrassed to be so obsessed with someone so closely associated with the Lowbrow movement, but I think his good work is accomplishing very different goals than the cute plastic toys of his bicoastal friends.

White often talks about the "metaphysical" nature of his paintings, something I recognize in the works of De Chirico or Edward Wadsworth. I think Wadsworth's later surrealist landscapes are notable because they deal exclusively in matters of a kind of heightened awareness that makes ordinary objects inexplicably present and significant. It would be easy to dismiss his seashells if you've never had a lucid dream. What we see that isn't shown— the irrational, the metaphysical; is the true content of his paintings.

The misfits of veristic surrealism: De Chirico, Balthus, Magritte, Delvaux, Wadsworth (even Freud and Hopper); employ an innate grammar of paranoid recognition. First, there is psychologically potent content with little regard to the pretenses of automatic techniques. We are dealing with images of things; things that are irrational but understood. And secondly, maybe most importantly, we see a focus on the intimate experiences of paying attention. Metaphysical painting is about the excitement that comes with simple perception, and its habitual faults.

Eric White's best work has a similar fetish for lucidity, along with the waking daymare quality that seems to occupy the other side of the coin. The cropping and segmentation of space in his collages suggest the same logic that the mind employs to make sense of the chaos of dreams, or transcend the limitations of linear time. I suppose what he is doing could be called Pop Surrealism. I feel that he sometimes teeters on inspiration, falling back from time to time on the tired conventions of his hipster colleagues. But as far as his ability to successfully wield the subconscious toward serious surreal work is concerned, he is without peer in his time.

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