by Victoria Fiske

Drawing is an artistic practice that can be utilized for myriad purposes, or in conjunction with other mediums. This type of art focuses on line, and what it uniquely represents in each image. Drawing has evolved from a study tool for paintings into its own medium for artists to explore. Specifically, drawing is used as a necessary phase in the artistic process of Photorealism. The Photorealist movement, known for naturalistic imagery of contemporary urban reality framed through photography and painting, became internationally known in 1972 when the mostly American Photorealist artists featured prominently in the German exhibition Documenta 5 Examining Reality: Visual Worlds Today. Don Eddy, a contemporary American Photorealist whose work appeared in Documenta 5, acknowledges drawing as an integral step to his overall painting method. The image Neon Junkyard, a drawing completed by Eddy in 1972, depicts an assemblage of neon signs and technological items. Eddy’s abstract arrangement of vividly colored objects suggests the over-stimulation and dehumanization of consumer culture through its formal layering and compression, as well as its relationship to the broader Photorealist movement as seen in the work of Richard Estes.

Don Eddy, Neon Junkyard, 1972, colored pencil on paper. Colored pencil on paper, 18 in x 24 in. University Museum of Contemporary Art, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Purchased with funds from the Fine Arts Council Grant, UM 1972.13.

Born in California in 1944, Don Eddy has worked consistently from the 1970s through today. He has  exhibited at Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York City since 1979. He has also appeared in many group exhibitions, at the Museum of Modern Art (New York, New York), the Fogg Art Museum (Boston, Massachusetts), and internationally in France and Denmark.[1] Eddy’s consistently positive reception relates to the consistency of his work. The drawing Neon Junkyard dates from his earlier Photorealist period; more recently he has focused on nature and the metaphysical realm.[2]

Eddy integrates recognizable lettering and objects into the composition, but fragments their depiction. In the top left corner appears a round sign featuring two triangles with green text that reads: “TEX.” These visual clues suggest the logo for Texaco Gas, completed with an orange star and green lettering spelling out its name. Other parts of the image are not as discernible as the Texaco sign. Next to Texaco extends a blue, rectangular billboard. It depicts bubble-styled font that reads “bik.” While the specific company remains unidentified, it may suggest a bike shop. The text appears illuminated with neon wiring to attract customers at every hour—night or day. As consumer culture was rapidly growing at the time, companies incorporated such new elements into their advertisements to attract customers. Finally, Eddy depicts a red and white sign on the bottom left of the composition, also in neon, but in this case unlit. This image contains both printed and cursive scripts overlaid on each other, but only the text “ANERS” can be read. Regardless of the specific companies, it is clear that Eddy portrays images from everyday life in a society driven by advertising. The meaningless piling up of these signs suggests the over-stimulation of consumer culture, which frames the way we  experience modern, urban life.

In addition to advertising, Eddy depicts images relating to the rise of industry and technology. At the bottom left of the composition is a hollow, cylinder-like object. Attached to it is a wooden, rectangular prism covered with an aluminum square at its end. The rounded part appears to be a type of airplane turbine or car engine, while the wooden piece could be its base. Perhaps the cylinder could be a model for study and design. The fragment refers generally to the expansion of industrial production throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, with the rise of automotive and aerospace industries.

Eddy uses colored pencil as his drawing tool for Neon Junkyard. Vivid colors attract the viewer’s eye and draw us into the composition. Reds are juxtaposed against complementary hues of green. The same is done with blues adjacent to oranges and yellows. Eddy meticulously draws and fills in colored details over all parts of the white paper. This basic color scheme stylistically evokes advertisement strategies based on color theory. Color stimulates the viewer’s eye and grabs the audience’s attention. Eddy also seems to build up multiple layers of color to create an illusion of solidity—a tangible, three-dimensional object for the viewer to visualize. This enhances the scene’s naturalism, making the objects appear realistic.

Compositionally, Eddy juxtaposes the objects to create a claustrophobic effect. Each object is partially hidden behind another, which makes it impossible for the viewer to see them fully. Each sign, letter, or billboard is stacked either on top of or against another. The viewer’s vantage point is unclear, as no ground or setting is visible among the jumble of items. Instead of a horizon line, Eddy arranges the composition carefully in a series of horizontal lines. The entire image breaks into three parts, creating a sense of structure or order. Eddy places these objects into a piled grouping, which communicates depth, but also clutter. There is a compression of space and a lack of sky in the scene, which instead features a striped blue cloth fluttering behind the uppermost objects. No individual or setting can be discerned, which dehumanizes the scene. The seemingly endless piling up of objects confronts the compositional order with potential disorder.

Eddy formally plays with light and shadow to increase the three-dimensionality of each object depicted. The source of light projects from the left side of composition, as indicated by the depicted shadows. For example, the green letters sit on the pink and yellow structure, yet jut out slightly. As the light hits these letters, a small shadow forms below—specifically across the dividing line between the pink and yellow shapes. The use of light in the image is a small but important detail, because without a balance between light and shadow, the viewer cannot visualize these images as solid objects.

In his art practice, Eddy uses a multi-step process. He begins by taking photographs of subject matter he would like to recreate in drawings or paintings. After capturing a satisfactory image with his camera, Eddy creates a drawing based on it. Eddy builds up color in this step though multiple layers of colored pencil. He thus establishes a colored base that he can later build on with paint. His following step is the most complicated part to his craft: the painting stage over the drawing foundation. Eddy describes this part as complex, organized in a series of under-paintings and over-paintings. He breaks the under-painting into three parts relating to color: first, phthalocyanine—a blue-green hue that initially creates imagery; second, burnt siena—to break apart the warm and cool tones in the image; and third, purple—to develop the individual colors. Blacks and greys are then added as final touches to the overall color structure. The colors are translucent, but built up to create texture and density. Finally, Eddy begins the over-painting stage. This part includes anywhere from 10 to 20 layers of colors. Over-painting with myriad color coatings provides the artist with the most exact replica of the initial photograph. Eddy intently focuses on the specific color values, hues and intensities, so they match how he envisioned it to look in the earliest steps of his process.[3] To Eddy, color acts as the most powerful agent when depicting reality as he perceives it. If the color appears falsely rendered, then the viewer cannot imagine it as the colors constantly surrounding us. The drawing portion of this method is integral to developing the various tones and hues in the final painting. This approach is like a scientific process, aiming to correctly depict our perception of objects in the world.

The first generation of Photorealists emerged out of the Pop Art movement. Like Pop Art, Photorealist images portrayed scenes relating to mass media and consumer culture. However, the depictions were hyper-realistic and naturalistic. Using photography, artists toyed with juxtaposing expectations and perceptions of reality.[4] The camera was important in the process for the Photorealist because of its purpose of communication. This device directly relates to the rise of technology and mass media, common subject matter in Photorealism. Photographic reference enhances the overall theme of technological saturation in modern life.[5]

Making extensive use of drawing, Photorealism depends on the naturalistic study of a particular subject. The artist uses numerous studies, whether photographs or sketches, as references for paintings. In Eddy’s complex approach, the drawing acts as the foundation of the painting. The Photorealist artists create line hyper-realistically. They are in complete control of the mark making, leaving little room for free-form gesture. Neon Junkyard presents a careful arrangement of lines in the juxtaposition of signs, billboards and lettering. Photorealists then use color deliberately to build on the linear composition and complete the painting. Precise naturalistic drawing helps the artist portray the hyper-realistic qualities of the Photorealist image.

Don Eddy, Private Parking X, 1971. Acrylic on canvas, 66 x 95 in. Collection St. Louis Museum of Art, St. Louis, MO.

Throughout his oeuvre, Eddy typically arranges everyday objects from unique perspectives. Donald Kuspit states in his monograph Don Eddy: The Art of Paradox that this distorted vantage point splits “the personal and the impersonal” to create a “dichotomy” between the two.[6] In the 1970s, Eddy created a series focused on automobiles, but positioned the viewer in unusual vantage points. For example, the acrylic on canvas Private Parking X (1971) portrays a red automobile with a California license plate. However, a chain link fence separates the viewer from the car. The links are diamond shaped, fragmenting the front of the car into small pieces. Kuspit elaborates that the fence “places the commonplace automobile in a private preserve emblematic of inner space, distancing us from it and turning it into an object of contemplation, no longer of practical use, as its immobilized state confirms.”[7] Also, a BankAmericard sign sits on the fence, obstructing the top right portion of the automobile. The sign encourages the viewer to gratify their consumer desire and purchase the car with this readily available credit card. In addition to cars, Eddy also portrayed images of store windows in his art.

Don Eddy, New Shoes for H, 1973-1974. Acrylic on canvas, 43 15/16 x 47 15/16 in. Cleveland Museum of Art.

Another acrylic on canvas, New Shoes for H. (1973, The Cleveland Museum of Art), depicts a female shoe store window showcasing its products, but also reflecting the city in its glass. The viewer sees both the red and yellow toned shoes—another key object of consumer desire—but also the bustle of buses passing, streetlights changing, and signs and skyscrapers in the periphery. The glass depicts urban society and consumer culture as the primary aspects of modern life. Kuspit states that Eddy “mocks commodities in the act of showing us all the things we can have, and also by showing that they have more being than one thought they had—more presence, more vitality—even though they are vacuous and trivial.”[8] Like Neon Junkyard, the collection of material objects and advertisements appear disorderly, almost claustrophobic. Consumer culture surrounds the viewer from all sides.

Another well-known 1960s American Photorealist was Richard Estes, who similarly toyed with color and perspective to critically comment on mass media. Like Eddy, Estes creates art based on photographs—sometimes even multiple images for a larger composition. Estes uses captured images as a form of preliminary “sketch” for paintings. The camera “neutralizes and sublimates his own point of view and allows his images to become more open-ended for the viewer.”[9]

Richard Estes, Movies from the Portfolio “Urban Landscapes III,” 1981, silkscreen print. Sheet: 19 3/4 x 27 5/8 in. Smith College Museum of Art. Gift of Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, SC 1982:32-4.

His silkscreen print Movies from the Portfolio “Urban Landscapes III” (1931, Smith College Museum of Art) features similar subject matter to Eddy’s—a glass windowed storefront reflecting urban signage. Some signs in the surrounding landscape read “Movies,” “The Return of The… ‘Breakfast Lunch,’” and, “World Wide Gifts.” Others are less decipherable. The billboards depict images of a noodle bowl and repeated images of a woman’s facial profile (from a billboard by the Pop artist Alex Katz). Compared to Neon Junkyard, Estes fragments the signs by cutting off parts of the viewer’s line of sight. Estes places other signs in front of one another, like the Katz billboard superimposed over the noodles. Or, he depicts the two sides of the glass dueling for visibility, as in the light from the shop appearing in the same spot as the woman’s mouth. In relation to drawing, Estes says, “as far as I’m concerned the whole painting is a drawing… To me, paintings and drawings are the same thing… A painting is a drawing with color; a painting is just a more finished drawing.”[10] His statement summarizes the role of drawing in Photorealism as a whole. Drawing plays an integral part when creating the composition, establishing the foundation of line and color. Painting then acts as a way to “finish” or enhance the drawing. Estes also matches similar colors to amplify the signs or billboards, for example the red and yellow “Movies” billboard or yellow type on green background on the “World Wide Gifts” shop sign. The viewer’s eyes bounce between the various advertisements, attempting to decode  their abstracted depictions. Both Eddy and Estes emphasize color to mimic the strategies of corporate advertising, but toy with perspective to create bewilderment over its increasing presence in modern society.

Eddy titles this image Neon Junkyard, suggesting a setting where things transform from once coveted items to scraps and discarded waste. The objects and signs lay haphazardly on top of or against others, forming a pile of trash. Eddy’s arrangement of these consumer items negates their original value. We can barely read the majority of the signs or identify the industrial objects portrayed. Once recognizable, the images are now reduced to worthless stuff. Perhaps Eddy is commenting on the value placed on industrial objects, or he prefers that they be relegated to the junkyard? Yet depicting them reinforces their cultural importance. Alternatively, we might view the junkyard as a representation of how consumer culture is constantly in flux. New products are continuously being developed, in need of new ideas for advertising and promotion. Old approaches are tossed away, in attempts to rebrand items for new demographics. This junkyard becomes a cabinet of curiosities—a hidden museum that houses objects that tell viewers how products were sold to previous generations. Each object is richly depicted, waiting for someone to uncover its worth and put value back into its advertised product. The incomprehensible vantage point makes the once recognizable now unrecognizable; however, we only need to sift through the pile to uncover its history.

Eddy depicts in Neon Junkyard identifiable yet fragmented, brightly toned yet claustrophobic objects in hyper-realistic style. An understanding of Eddy’s Photorealist process, specifically the importance of drawing to this method, makes evident his strong focus on not only portraying consumer culture, but also questioning its worth. Eddy’s heap of neon signs and billboards reflects the inexorable growth of commercial advertising and industrial technology; however, it simultaneously presents it as an overwhelming and alienating aspect of modern society.

 

[1] Matt Moores, “Don Eddy Biography,” Nancy Hoffman Gallery, Accessed April 25, 2017.

[2] Matt Moores, “Don Eddy,” Nancy Hoffman Gallery, Accessed April 25, 2017, http://www.nancyhoffmangallery.com/artist/display/15/Don-Eddy.

[3] Don Eddy, “The Process,” www.DonEddyart.com, Accessed April 25, 2017.

[4] Otto Letze, “Photorealism” in Otto Letze, Simon Cane, and Nathaniel McBride, Photorealism: 50 Years of Hyperrealistic Painting. (Ostfildern : Hatje Cantz, 2013), 9.

[5] Otto Letze and Nina S Knoll, “From Celluloid to Pil, from Pixels to Acrylic” in Letze, Cane, and McBride, Photorealism, 11.

[6] Donald B Kuspit, Don Eddy: The Art of Paradox (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2002), 20.

[7] Ibid., 12.

[8] Ibid., 20.

[9] Patterson Sims, Jessica May, Helen Ferrulli, and Richard Estes, Richard Estes’ Realism (Washington, DC : Smithsonian American Art Museum/New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 1-3.

[10] Richard Estes in John Arthur and Richard Estes, “A Conversation,” in Richard Estes, Sandro Parmiggiani, and Guillermo Solana, Richard Estes (Milano, Italy: Skira, 2007), 96.