April 5, 2011
Realism to Surrealism
Eric Wiley began his career as a photo-realistic painter, but in his more recent work, surrealism and unreality have started to bleed into his work, and the resulting images are strange, almost collage-type works in which human figures are haunted by what look like abstract, ghostly traces from other paintings. If we wanted to be fancy, we’d say Eric’s illustrations deal with understanding the underlying fundementals of painting and life, but we’d rather just look at the pictures until we feel creeped out. He lives and works in Brooklyn, and that’s where we ran into him to have a chat about feeling guilty about his technical skill and getting burnt out on painting.
What lead you to your illustration style? You’ve gone through so many changes…
I got so burnt out on realism and I felt I needed to find a way to enjoy Illustration and find ideas in it again. I didn’t have a real point I was trying to get across. The idea was to break down the methods and styles I had before, in the end it became about finding out why I wanted paint in the first place. I wanted to find out what the point even was. I might have burnt myself out entirely.
You show the process of painting in your paintings, how does that fit in with your ideas about art?
I wanted it to be honest and genuine. I would feel guilty if I was showing off how talented I was, like, “Oh yeah this is going to great, I’m so good.” I wanted to break it down to the kernel of the idea, making sure it was broken down to the ideas and not just ability. A lot of it had to do with the guilt around being technically able to do things. I would hate to think that art was just about an artist’s skill. It should be about identifying with struggle and the harder parts of life.
On top of all that there’s always a historical blur in your work where it feels like it could be contemporary or the turn of the 19th century simultaneously.
I wanted to identify with my existence in the world as an American. It’s who I am, it’s my identity. I wanted to isolate “normal America” and examine it. There’s no exact point that I’m trying to get across other than make paintings that I find interesting–so much art is really boring. It wasn’t about history and the specific references, so much as the feeling of America. It’s all over the place historically, but I’m using it to point out that there’s more than all that for people, in spite of the rough times America might be in now.
It sounds like you’re more interested in the ideas behind your work than the medium of painting.
I got so burnt out on painting. I don’t know… I get hung up on the idea that most painters figure one thing out and they just keep doing it over and over again. After a while it all comes off as boring, it’s bleak.
Do you buy into the intellectual competition between art and illustration?
Thinking about this was pretty integral in my development. There’s always a feeling that illustration is sub-par because it’s branding yourself and branding your art. At the same time it doesn’t really matter, the art world is really just as ridiculous. The real pleasure and enjoyment in both is identifying with the work.