Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Da Plane! Jeff Elrod and Jeremy Deprez on Fantasy Island

Robert Boyd

Jeff Elrod, Echo Painting (green), 2013 UV ink on canvas, 102 x 84 inches

Jeff Elrod was known for creating images on a computer then transferring them by hand to canvas. The work in this show is different in one respect--Elrod is printing his work out. Now on one hand, this shouldn't make much difference at all. What does it matter if Echo Painting (green) was put on canvas by a printer or by a painter? Elrod is responsible for creating the fuzzy, seemingly out-of-focus image either way. On the other hand, this is a piece of merchandise in a retail establishment, Texas Gallery, and if I were a collector, I would be willing to pay more for a unique image than for one that can be printed from a computer file in unlimited quantities. How much more? I don't know and can't even guess--all of these paintings were sold before the show opened. Collectors want their Jeff Elrods apparently, whether printed or painted.

(Of course, thinking about the reproducible quality of Elrod's paintings could lead one to a boring discussion about what constitutes a unique work of art, but it's all been said before so I'll leave that discussion to undergraduates who are still having their minds blown by Walter Benjamin.)

Jeff Elrod, Worn Copy, 2013, UV ink, acrylic & enamel on canvas, 90 x 64.5 inches

In any case, not all of them are torn straight off the laser printer. The paintings seem to come in two groups, ones made exclusively with UV ink and those made with UV ink and other stuff. It may be that the other stuff--acrylic and enamel paint in Work Copy, for example--is applied by hand. Or maybe there is a computer printer somewhere that can apply paint as well as ink. I looked very closely at the paintings and couldn't tell.

Another way to split Elrod's work is between the "echo" paintings, which look like out-of-focus images, and the others. The "echo" works have a sense of space. The viewer feels she is looking at an indistinct surface, some parts receding, others coming close, that she is in front of or perhaps floating above. The edge of the canvas becomes key in these paintings. It provides the viewer purchase. The edge of a picture is always important in a painting, but here it is especially so because it contrasts so sharply with the formlessness of the image.

Jeff Elrod, Echo Painting (b/w), 2013, UV ink on canvas, 103 x 84 inches

And because these paintings are quite large, the formlessness of the image is something the viewer can really get lost in. This is not an arrangement of color and value on a flat surface--it is another place altogether, a roiling substance that made me think of Stanislaw Lem's description of the ocean-like organism in Solaris. It feels otherworldly.

Jeff Elrod, Fantasy Island, 2013, UV ink on canvas, 90 x 64 1/2 inches

But this feeling is not carried through in the other paintings. A piece like Fantasy Island may have been created on a computer screen, but it comes across is a work engaged with the surface of the canvas. The lines, whether sharp (as if carefully painted with a brush or drawn with a pen) or fuzzy (like spray paint lines) came across distinctly as marks on a surface. Even though they are layered (the fine white line is on top of the fuzzy white and black, which in turn are on top of the blue area), they still read as flat. There is some sense of push-pull in the Hans Hoffman sense, but that is overwhelmed by the graffiti-like flatness of the image. These paintings don't feel like windows into an alien world, like the echo paintings. They feel like walls that have been tagged.

Jeff Elrod, Village HD, 2013, acrylic, enamel & tape on canvas, 90 x 80 inches

Intriguingly, Elrod is teamed with Jeremy DePrez in this show. DePrez is a young Houston artist (he just got his MFA in 2011); it would seem that he benefits a great deal from sharing a show with an established artist like Elrod. Of course, such a pairing can be dangerous for the younger, less-well-known artist. Will his work stand up in comparison with the maestro's? It's hard not to think about these questions when you hear about a show like this.

Jeremy DePrez, untitled, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 78 x 89 inches

These aren't the right questions to be asking, though. What interests me, once I enter the show, is the relationship between the two bodies of work. The show is hung with the two painters' work mixed together. DePrez is placed next to Elrod repeatedly. The work has roughly the same scale; you don't have any of the installation awkwardness you might get if one artist had been a miniaturist while the other worked large. The two artists similarly work in abstraction (at least, I think it's abstraction--DePrez might be actually depicting real things that are hard to discern).

Jeremy DePrez, untitled, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 73 x 100 inches

DePrez typically paints with a limited palette. Pieces like the two untitled works above have two colors, a red and a blue. Some of the pieces have a small number of colored marks on a white background, or are black and white. At least one piece is monochrome.

Jeremy DePrez, untitled, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 71 x 50 1/2 inches

Jeremy DePrez, untitled, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 62 x 45 1/2 inches

All the pieces with no titles (excluding the ones with parenthetical titles) are similar--two unmixed colors, they look like marks made on a ground. The first three above have choppy marks, like someone idly tapping a marker pen on a piece of paper. Except for the large size of these pieces, there is nothing to distinguish them from the kind of marks that someone might make if stuck in a boring meeting or lecture. They fill up the space with a bare minimum of deliberate design. The last of the untitled works feels a bit more deliberate, as if DePrez is carefully trying to draw unruled parallel lines but having a bit of trouble.

Jeremy DePrez, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 114 x 66 inches

The other group of DePrez paintings feature small painted areas on large white grounds, as in I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I. This approach is similar to what DePrez did in his MFA thesis exhibit. At the time, I suggested that the small painted bits were synecdoches for something bigger. I don't know if this  interpretation reflects what DePrez was doing, but it works with I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I. The letter I stands in for DePrez himself, and putting it on a canvas suggests that this is a self-portrait.

Jeremy DePrez, Random Weapons and Loose Body Parts 2013, acrylic on canvas, 114 x 66 inches

Despite its violent title, Random Weapons and Loose Body Parts doesn't look violent. It doesn't depict what's in the title. But the arrangement appears more or less random, as if we are looking at the ground and seeing where bits of debris landed. (Dropping things randomly onto a surface has been an acceptable artistic practice since Duchamp and Arp.) And if we think of these seemingly random marks as a scattering of blood drops and spent casings, the synecdoche theory holds. Since the Sandy Hook shooting in December, things like spent casings and blood drops have been on many of our minds. Random Weapons and Loose Body Parts suggests that these things might have been of DePrez's mind as well.

Jeremy DePrez, left: Untitled (Milton), 2013, oil and wax on canvas, 82 x 36 inches; and right: Untitled (Harriet), 2013, acrylic on canvas, 82 x 36 inches

But the schema I suggest, between the two color depictions of marks and the "synecdoche" paintings on white grounds, doesn't really work. For one thing, there is another way to divide the canvases--those with perfectly straight stretchers, and those like Milton, Harriet, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I and the big horizontal untitled piece that have bent irregular stretchers. And Milton is altogether different from the other works with its monochromatic color and heavily textured surface.

Jeremy Deprez, Untitled (Milton) detail, 2013, oil and wax on canvas, 82 x 36 inches

Trying to classify the paintings is a mug's game anyway. What matters is that within this context, and next to Elrod's paintings, DePrez's paintings work. They don't look tentative or meek or not ready for prime time. They are handsome and assert their presence. The minimal means DePrez employs only serve to make them bolder as objects. It's an impressive grouping.


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