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Vp Issue 4: "Nicole Eisenman: Paintings From the Edge," by Elissa Meyers (2003)

Vp Issue 4: "Nicole Eisenman: Paintings From the Edge," by Elissa Meyers (2003)

Whether Nicole Eisenman’s work portrays heroes or monster children, history or sniveling truths, it recalibrates the balance between art, recreation and décor, recasting both in what we commonly see as common and in what we commonly term art. Her newest paintings ring with confidence and the sense that Nicole never doubts her imagination or its power, never second guesses her formidable talent.

Only about half of Nicole Eisenman quotes other artists’ work. The other half quotes life. Goofy, mundane things, as well as subtle and reflective emotions, find expression in her art, as do circuses, horror flicks, hunting, fishing, drugs and sex. The Baroque painter Poussin is a palatable presence in much of her work. Eisenman also integrates a wit and rage descended, it seems, from the French political cartoonist and painter, Daumier. The Impressionists too, particularly Monet, appear in her paintings, yet it may well be Picasso who lends Eisenman's work the kindling that makes it all seem ready to burst into flames. She has made several critical tributes to the painter and to his daughter, Paloma.

“When I was younger, I felt I had an almost mystical connection to them,” she said, flashing a Janus-faced earnestness and sarcasm. “I saw Paloma as a tragic figure. Following in the footsteps of a genius father couldn't have been easy. I did a mural in London where Paloma's henchwomen catch the yellow liquid that drips from a minotaur's wounds in precious little perfume bottles.”

Although Nicole does, she says, have all of that art history afloat in her brain, her new work is informed more by her life experience than by a formal or intellectual imperative. Namely, Eisenman has applied her altered perception to a series of works she made after a stay at the Betty Ford Clinic to recover from her drug addiction. In the “Party Girl” series, Eisenman portrays the kinds of women she encountered there: “actresses from the Sixties who never really made it, Summer Stock players and wives of judges.”

The “Party Girl” series features paintings that also represent the four major drug groups: cocaine, alcohol, heroin and pills. In making, what is in my opinion, the most disturbing of the series, a painting she called “Darvana,” she drew several portraits of a face in charcoal over a painted head, then erased the charcoal, making a vague and terrifying image. In fact, she kept