Michael Eudy
Irony and Emptiness

I first met Michael Eudy in the fall of 2004 when he was an MFA student at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. There was Michael, mutton-chop sideburns and Texas twang diluted from years spent too close to the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. My initial encounter with his art was a drawing of a jack-o-lantern that he had done with the a word bubble coming out that read, “Happy Birthday, Fuckers.” At that time Michael was making the transition from graffiti and hip-hop influenced paintings to work built on a theme of cultural appropriation. Those early pieces, if one can call paintings from two years ago “early,” had a real energy to them, a synthesis of abstraction and tagging that was visually arresting. Yet at the same time there was the sense the work could be more. While aesthetically pleasing Michael needed to move on. It is not surprising then that he abandoned this insufficient style and unconsciously made the move to the 18th century German art historian and theorist Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s belief that imitation was the key to unlocking the mystery of one’s own art.
Winckelmann believed in imitation, not copying, he thought the Greeks had already perfected the practice of imitating nature; they had uncovered its mysteries and put them into concrete form. Consequently it would be of no use for artists to go out and work from nature. Winckelmann’s suggestion was to study classical Greek models, creating an educational canon which would be the basis of artistic knowledge.1 Though he did not want simple replication, “As against one’s own thought I put copying, not imitation. By the former I understand slavish following; in the latter, what is imitated, if handled with reason, may assume an other nature, as it were, and become one’s own.” 2 Imitation is an adherence to the past and a creation of the new, an awareness of otherness and the ideas within the self. It can be said that Michael Eudy’s paintings follow this tradition; instead of using the Greeks as his template he borrows from pop-culture references and older masters. A technique that in this appropriation age seems no less valid, and perhaps a rational way to try to understand what painting has become. Winckelmann’s world is gone. Art’s meaning has changed. Past perfections are now looked at as having happened fifty years ago, for subsequent generations this might as well be ancient Greece.
So Michael paints images from his cultural heritage. One can see the influence of Ed Ruscha’s 1960’s Pop Art, yet instead of Felix the Cat Michael paints Vans camouflage sneakers (Hidden In Plane Sight, 2006), as ubiquitous an image for this generation as Felix was for Ruscha’s. There is an odd silence to Michael’s work in the face of its visible energy and busyness bringing to mind Ruscha’s burning building paintings, particularly Burning Standard (1965-68). Though a gas station is burning it is a completely silent experience, the flames are frozen forever. In the painting The Double Split Experiment/Two Things at Once, Two Places at Once (2006) Michael has unwittingly appropriated Ruscha’s Brave Men Run in My Family (1983) and doubled it, adding the same ship (what looks to be an 18th century barque) on the painting’s left side. He is able to use the influence as well as transform it. Where Ruscha depicted daylight Michael’s side of the canvas is shrouded in a psychedelic dusk. The sky and sea are filled with greens, oranges, pale blues, and light purple. It is as if Michael had looked at Delacroix’s Shipwreck on the Coast (1862), with its rolling whitecaps and sunlight glistening off the waves and rescued those stranded sailors only to drop them into another world. The resultant painting is strangely terrifying, suggesting a collision of worlds that should never make contact.
This is Michael’s gift, taking the disparate and making a whole. The selective influence that is able to maintain distance by nodding at its predecessor, but never giving in to the desire for simple copying. Not mimicry art, nor appropriation with the intent to deny credit; instead Michael seeks to create a dialogue between his own artistic sensibilities and the images that influence him. An Attempt to Slow the Expansion of Space shows the explosion of 1950’s Science Fiction rocket ships, a silhouetted stealth bomber, and missiles. It all seems to happen in a nowhere. Rising from the bottom of the painting is what looks to be a black hole. The voraciousness of it threatens to consume the painting; climbing the smoke, creating a new reality of emptiness. These
realities of emptiness are a pervasive theme in Michael’s work, enhanced by the overall stillness of the pieces. The viewer gets the feeling that they have arrived just a little too late. A cleansing wind has swept through, leaving the world clean, with just these remnants of lost cultures waiting like ghosts.
There is a sense of danger in Michael’s paintings, of the uncontrollable and the immanent confrontations that time brings to the surface. He plays with the viewing points of his audience, bringing disparate images into that most wonderful of wooden rectangles. He does not simply throw his subjects together in a ragtag manner hoping the work turns out positive, while it falls clumped in the ironic symbolism that drowns so many young artists. By carefully constructing his paintings Michael creates a living world, where it all seems just a little off kilter. His worlds live on the edge of chaos, as if time has stopped the whole thing from falling off the cliff, the moment paused before it comes to a thunderous finale. But it is no relief from tension, not a moment to sit back and breathe. Lost At Sea is just a red and white hovercraft adrift in the middle of a pistachio green sea. The ship looks like a child’s toy, perhaps his son Cy’s, but Michael is playing with it in a sinister way. Stealing it from the confines of the bathtub and depositing it in a nightmare world. The door to the vessel is open, but it is abandoned, sitting forlornly in the top third of the painting, stuck forever in this horrible doldrums. One wants to reach in and rescue the ship, but to discover its emptiness would be too terrifying. The action may be stopped, yet it pulses with the threat of violence, like the moment before a fistfight when everything slows down; that first moment where the body tenses and then lets loose with the knowledge of getting hit. The work is the first charge, the moment of the knowledge of assault.
Michael paints worlds that could never exist, appropriating his favorite influences and juxtaposing them against the wilds of his imagination. What could be written off as simply ironic instead raises deeper questions about the nature of sight, of solitude and loneliness. He refuses to tread in the “wink wink nudge nudge” mentality of contemporary irony, but uses it as a tool for humor amidst his often startling, emotionally empty images. The weapons of elitism and snarky remove have no

place in Michael’s artistic vocabulary. He has no concrete subject, forcing the viewer to explore the symbolism of his paintings. Though he may owe a debt to cultural fathers he is alone in his vision. Michael gives hope to the interplay of irony and appropriation, lending them a weight and immediacy when one could have sworn they were dead.

-Clay Matlin, NYC 04/06

1 Moshe Barasch, Theories of Art: From Winckelmann to Baudelaire Vol. 2 (New York: Routledge, 2000) pg.110

2 Ibid, pg.112