CONTEMPORARY PAINTERS SERIES - Nicole Eisenman
Last month Lund Humphries published the first major account of American artist Nicole Eisenman's painting career to date. The monograph, written by Dan Cameron, unpacks the complexities of Eisenman's oeuvre via thematic chapters that address key ideas which emerge when drawing specific works together.
Below are two excerpts - from the book's Foreword and Introduction - which give an insight into the complexity and range of Eisenman's oeuvre...
- Foreword -
It should come as something of a surprise to realize that this is the first comprehensive monograph on the paintings of Nicole Eisenman. Maybe it’s taken this long precisely because her oeuvre is so wide-ranging, so hard to encompass. Slowly but steadily, it has become clearer and clearer to many that Eisenman is, at midcareer, one of today’s outstanding artists, anywhere, in any medium. A virtuoso printmaker and, increasingly, a formidable sculptor, she has always been first and foremost – and most emphatically – a painter. Or, I am almost tempted to say, she is many painters in one – for as Dan Cameron observes, she is ‘a stylistic chameleon, whose allegiance to any particular school or manner is no more durable than was Pablo Picasso’s’. As John Yau put it in reviewing Eisenman’s 2016 retrospective at the New Museum, New York, she is ‘at once compassionate and angry, empathetic and satirical, tender and tough . . . a storyteller, portraitist, social chronicler, allegorist, fantasist, utopian dreamer and history painter’. More than an eclectic magpie, she is what we’d perhaps given up on hoping for – namely (in Charles Baudelaire’s famous phrase), the painter of modern life. How true this is has never been clearer to me than after reading Dan Cameron’s comprehensive essay, which shows how Eisenman has applied her art-historical knowledge and technical skill to themes of sexuality and gender, families conventional and otherwise, communities and collectives, individuality and the crowd, politics and social action, death and danger, and contemporary transformations of nature, as well as of her own place as an artist in the world – among other things. No one artist can ever depict the whole of society over the course of a lifetime, but Eisenman comes closer to doing that than any I can think of. And she does so by way of her manifold exploration of painting itself, and a relentless questioning of any self-imposed limitations on its scope, thereby (as Cameron says) ‘returning the mystery of the not-yet-understood and the surprise of the unanticipated to contemporary painting’.
- Barry Schwabsky
- Introduction -
Over the three-decade span of her career, Nicole Eisenman has become one of the most highly regarded and influential figurative artists of her generation, despite her work not being generally known to a broader public until fairly recently. This may be partly due to her relatively gradual ascent from the inside, so to speak, as a ‘painter’s painter’ whom other painters look toward for inspiration and courage. It might also have something to do with Eisenman’s consistently unflinching use of feminist and lesbian modes and memes, often in ways designed to rattle a wide swath of self-appointed guardians of public morality. Even more provocatively, the political lens through which Eisenman tends to view the vocation of artist has helped to push her to the forefront of more widespread cultural interest in gender issues that the larger art community has only fully embraced in recent years.
The underlying premise for this book is that Nicole Eisenman’s paintings emerge from the artistic worldview of a stylistic chameleon, whose allegiance to any particular school or manner is no more durable than was Pablo Picasso’s. One primary difference is that Picasso made his way in a more or less linear fashion through successive periods, whereas Eisenman easily moves between far-flung stylistic parameters with remarkable ease and accomplishment. Although her touch does tend be recognizable within the scope of a particular genre, her rapid transitions from Romantic Realist to Neo-Primitivist, with multiple side trips in between, are the signs of a restless intellect and cultural critic whose efforts to hone her own voice have had the added benefit of making her the heir apparent to the outlaw comic-book stylings that first emerged in the work of Peter Saul and, later, Mike Kelley.
In recent years, as Eisenman’s public profile has risen, her artistic practice has broadened considerably. Her widely acclaimed participation in the 2017 edition of SculpturProjekte in Münster, Germany, consisted of a life-size grouping of figures gathered around a reflecting pool, and her inclusion in both the 2019 Biennale di Venezia and Whitney Biennial focused on her three-dimensional works.
For this treatment of Eisenman’s paintings and works on paper, a choice was made early on to avoid any linear or chronological discussion of the work, in favor of an approach that considers her art in terms of subject matter. For first-time viewers, it can be especially challenging to reconcile the style and subject of particular works with the dates that they were painted, and since key thematic structures tend to appear and reappear across Eisenman’s 30-year career, my hope is that by considering separate chronologies within each thematic grouping, one can instead follow her artistic development through 11 separate chronologies.
You can get your copy of the book HERE. With free UK P&P on orders from our website.
Hardback • 144 Pages • Size: 280 × 240 mm
114 colour illustrations
ISBN: 9781848224506 • Publication: June 14, 2021
Series: Contemporary Painters Series
Images in order of appearance:
1. Portrait of Nicole Eisenman. Photograph by Sarah Nicole Prickett.
2. Nicole Eisenman, Death Playing Checkers, 2003, Oil on canvas, 147.2 × 183.2 cm (58 × 72 in). Courtesy of the Artist.
3. Nicole Eisenman, Heading Down the River on the Jawbone of an Ass, 2017, Oil on canvas, 323.2 × 266.7 cm (127 ½ × 105 in), Private collection. Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles. Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer.
4. Nicole Eisenman, Brooklyn Biergarten II, 2018, Oil on canvas, 165.1 × 208.3 cm (65 × 82 in), Private collection. Courtesy of the Artist.
5. Nicole Eisenman, Beer Garden with AK, 2009, Oil on canvas, 165.1 × 208.3 cm (65 × 82 in), Private collection. Courtesy of the artist and Leo Koenig Inc, NY.