Moving at a Snail’s Pace in Geological Time
Eric Stoner at Irvine Fine Arts Center
Through August 11, 2018
By Liz Goldner
Eric Stoner mines for his art, his family history, demons, fantasies, romantic successes and failures, his interest in art history, and especially his love of music and of nature. He works on his multi-media collages—some as large as 72 by 48 inches—for as long as ten years.
As a lifelong musician, and visual artist who graduated summa cum laude from Laguna College of Art and Design, a major life change dramatically altered his creative trajectory. “After receiving my BFA in 1998, I moved to Seattle,” he explains, “and I immediately experienced severe depression related to the dark and rainy climate.” Feeling compelled to step away from visual art, musical improvisation became his primary creative outlet. “There was an immediacy with music that expressed the difficult emotional changes that I was living through.” While recording with a revolving cast of musicians, “I started to see cinematic visions of the music expressed during those sessions. Those visions slowly transformed into my early collages. And those small visual narratives expressed the way I felt that music looked.”
To create his collages, Stoner’s vast archive of photographic images (he is a professional photographer) and original art became the foundation of these new works. He began sourcing the original artwork of friends and mentors, cut images from old classical art books, vintage postcards, record album covers, flyers and magazines, and used silk flowers from craft stores, and jigsaw puzzles in his work. For several pieces, he intricately fabricated pieces of thin plywood to look like trees and branches—paying homage to his love of nature. He laboriously hammered down these materials onto wood panels, using numerous finishing nails.
Stoner’s images, begun more than a decade ago, include saintly women, biblical figures, preachers, lovers, people on pilgrimages, devils, angels, skeletons, pictures of himself, and haunted, monster-like faces peering from various nooks and crannies. “I’m purging a lot of accumulated darkness in my work, but I’m doing it with worldly and often self deprecating humor that’s layered into the narratives” he explains. He also includes in his pieces fish and other aquatic creatures, birds, snakes, butterflies, and especially plant-life. “I examine the major chapters of my life in my work through the filter of nature because it forces beauty into the equation, along with a healthy dose of humility.”
Stoner’s The Ivory Tower of Babel, created in 2007 to 2008, explores the cosmos and his personal understanding of the mystical through old journal entries, circular astrological charts, and cut-out angelic figures. The collage also includes undersea monsters, a castle made from jigsaw puzzle pieces (he discovered a stash of completed puzzles under his mother’s bed), one photo of himself, and another of himself taking photos. This biographical artwork alludes to elements of German Expressionism with its drawings and to religion with its cut-outs. With its strong narrative elements, it evokes the fantasy illustrations of Renaissance artists Hieronymus Bosch, and Pieter Breughel.
Falling Embers/Fertile Soil (2008 to 2018) is more complex with a universe of birds, fish, snakes, exotic plant life, butterflies, coins, lovers huddling together, all overlaid with carefully crafted and distressed tree branches made of plywood. This Bosch-inspired piece also includes the devil playing cards, and a photo of the artist playing the guitar. The overall effect is that of an intricate universe that “simultaneously exists in a perpetual state of chaos and order,” he says.
Acknowledging Division at the Speed of Nails (2007 to 2017) is similarly complex. Yet in this piece, the haunted, angry and distressed faces derived from Francisco Goya’s black paintings peer out at the viewer. The smaller The Island of Misfit Muses (2012-17) is an allegorical portrayal of winged muses and angels, playing harps, flying above a churning sea crafted from jigsaw puzzle pieces. Blissed Out of Sight and Mind (2013), the most bucolic work in the series, features a Thomas Kincade village, again fashioned from jigsaw puzzle pieces, along with anthropomorphic birds and exotic trees decorated with silk flowers.
The Pitfalls and Perils of Placing People on Pedestals (2013-2017) is one of Stoner’s most autobiographical artworks. It alludes to the artist’s lifelong journey to embrace romance, while learning the painful lesson, “that a loved one can easily become a fallen angel if propped up to unrealistic highs,” he says. Featured are well-known George Hurrell photos of actresses Jean Harlow and Anne Sheridan, along with skeletons and angelic looking females, the latter placed on pedestals, with some pedestals made out of sculpting epoxy, affixed to the canvas.
Viewing this exhibition, which also includes several smaller preparatory drawings, is to see years of creative output encompassing the artist’s personal evolution and desire to understand himself. He embraces a larger cosmic world in his work—perhaps to escape the travails of living in a complex, non-forgiving society.
Irvine Fine Arts Center
14321 Yale Ave., Irvine, CA 92604