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Eric White’s Triage at GRIMM New York

©Molly Krause

We’re living in a micro-era when “art experiences” are created sheerly for Instastories, completely vapid, unchallenging and basically intellectual muck. If I see another selfie of a person jumping into a thematic ball pit at an art “exhibition,” I’m going to barf. So instead of angering me, why don’t you jump into the heavily layered, nostalgically vintage narrative imagined by painter (and exquisite karaoke singer) Eric White at GRIMM New York, hmm? White’s new show, Triage (through January 13), does what art is supposed to do; transports the viewer deep inside his or her own imagination, into a picture postcard sent from 1973. Through January 13 at 202 Bowery between Prince and Spring.

©Vladimir Weinstein/BFA

“Through the lens of a fictional character—a woman in 1973 who compulsively arranges mundane objects and cultural ephemera into intricate shrines—Triage examines the psychology of those who fixate on control as a way to manage chaos”

New York, NY — November 9, 2018 — Following inclusion in GRIMM’s 2015-2018 Frieze New York
presentations and a 2016 solo show at GRIMM Amsterdam, Eric White is pleased to debut a solo
exhibition of eight new oil paintings at the Dutch gallery’s year-old New York space.
Triage depicts the narrative of an anonymous woman working as a secretary in the year 1973. She lives in persistent fear that imminent doom is surrounding her, both in her personal and professional relationships as well as in a broader societal context. She channels this anxiety by performing what she believes to be a healing and protective ritual: obsessively arranging trinkets and cultural ephemera into shrine-like displays within holes in the wall of the office where she works. Her compulsion to construct these arrangements progresses from within the concealed holes in the wall to more elaborate and public shrines in the parking lot of the Brutalist office building.

©Vladimir Weinstein/BFA

A distinctly retro feel marks each of Triage’s works, as every single rendered element (cars, records, books, etcetera) dates from 1973 or earlier. Though the parking lot paintings—the commanding centerpiece of Triage due to their monumental size—are crisp and glamorous with cultural references like an Elizabeth Taylor movie billboard and a Diana Ross LP, everything is a little off; for instance, that particular Elizabeth Taylor film was a low-budget dud and certainly never had a billboard. These brightly colored, nostalgically sexy cars are there, but parked haphazardly with no regard for the parking lot lines. And, while standard directional arrows are visible on the asphalt, their orientation is nonsensical with no apparent directive on how to actually get out. All of the ingredients for an unremarkable suburban corporate landscape are present, but they’re scrambled, like someone trying to speak while experiencing a stroke. In a broader context, the woman is living in 1973 America; it’s the era of Vietnam, Watergate, and the erosion of public trust in American institutions. It’s the end of the “Long Boom” of postwar economic growth. With this uneasy cultural climate in mind, the source of the woman’s “psychological emergency” resonates beyond her own circumstances. In an overarching sense, Triage visually parses the line between rational and irrational human behavior; the woman’s compulsion to respond to what she perceives as impending doom is understandable, but the way that the compulsion manifests (with a sort of “demented logic,” as White describes it) is puzzling to the viewer. White further describes of Triage’s central narrative:

©Vladimir Weinstein/BFA

“In a way, this is a one-woman pagan uprising. It’s part-spiritual-epiphany, part-mental-breakdown. Her self-styled shamanism incorporates culture of the time, but is also influenced by various tenets of historical ritualistic traditions. Some aspects of elements in the parking lot are a manifestation of her own imagination and dissociative perception. For instance, the colors of the cars allude to the ‘sacred directions’ of paganism. She finds her actions to be beneficial to society at large, and, in a truly well-intentioned way, considers herself to be a healer of some sort.”

Though the artist—who, in 1973, was a middle-class five-year-old in Michigan—has a background quite distinct from the anonymous working woman of Triage’s storyline, he explains his personal connection to the work as such:
“In 1973, my parents’ relationship was beginning to fall apart and would eventually end in divorce. I have a vivid memory of drawing in dim light while listening to the Beatles’ White Album, which did little to mask the sound of my parents yelling at each other upstairs. My technical approach to Triage is a psychological continuation of my drawing style since I was a kid, when I used to sharpen a mechanical pencil to a microscopic point and meticulously render images from photographs, exerting as much control as possible as an antidote for the chaos that surrounded me. Highly technical painting brings a satisfying, meditative state akin to what I imagine the woman in Triage is feeling through her shrine-building.”

Triage contains eight oil paintings in total. Two 3×3-foot works and one 6×4-foot work depict the woman’s hands inside the hole in the wall, arranging the shrines, while three 7×12-foot paintings depict various instances of the parking lot behavior. Two final paintings—considerably smaller at 16×16 inches and 16×20 inches—are trompe l’oeils of miniature images and objects that our protagonist has arranged on a wall.

Triage will be on view at GRIMM New York (202 Bowery)
through Sunday, January 13. Opening hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Featured in the basement of the gallery will be two additional series of works from White: a conceptual installation composed of over 400 8-Track cassettes, and a group of to-scale trompe l’oeils of fictionalized vintage LPs with two 60×60-inch works of the
same series.

Eric White (b. 1968, Michigan; BFA 1990, RISD) is an artist whose practice principally examines psychological phenomena through twentieth century history and pop culture. He typically explores these ideas through distinct bodies of work that focus around a fictional central narrative. Through works that are hyper-realistically rendered yet narratively fantastical, White tells psychological stories that use cultural symbolism to resonate within and beyond their own narrative frameworks.
Since 2002, White has exhibited in group shows at, chronologically: Gracie Mansion Gallery, Pablo’s Birthday, PPOW, Derek Eller Gallery, Galerie Emanuel Perrotin, Deitch Projects, The Hole, and GRIMM. He has shown in presentations at Frieze New York, Art Brussels, and the Armory Show. White was the 2010 recipient of a New York Foundation of the Arts fellowship grant. From 2006 until 2014, White taught Narrative Painting at the School of Visual Arts. In 2015, Rizzoli published a 208-page Eric White monograph. He has done album artwork for Frank Zappa and Tyler, the Creator. White is based between Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
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