by Jonathan Beer
Nicole Eisenman could be resting on her laurels. Since receiving her degree at Rhode Island School of Design in 1987, the French-born artist has been incredibly active, but despite an already widespread reputation for being a prolific artist, Eisenman proves it to us again. Currently on view at Leo Koenig, her newest work in printmaking features more works than many artists might produce in a year.
Half of the exhibition space is dedicated to over 30 expressionist monotypes created by the artist. Most of them are untitled, and reveal the intuitive and unstructured nature of the monotype process. Each piece is a one of a kind print that cannot be editioned, and for that reason allows a rare glimpse into the moment of creation. Her monotypes jump from humorous to confrontational to disgusting, yet this variety evokes a sense of harmony. The prints allow us to see what stimulates her. We watch as she revisits visual languages from comic strips to tarot cards within her creative process. One piece has a cartoon cowboy riding King Kong, and a few rows over hangs the artist’s LSD version of Van Gogh’s famous Portrait of Joseph Roulin. Another shows a woman performing a cryptic action on a prostrate figure lying beneath her; it is not clear whether it’s domination or resuscitation. Many of the monotypes are portraits done with an aggressive and demanding hand, creating a raw likeness that might reflect the sitter or the creator.
Painters tend toward monotypes to extend the painterly process while losing preciousness that can plague more invested paintings. For this reason they tend to reframe the notion of a finished work, and often, in Eisenman’s case, show off the most essential creative decisions.
It is rare for an artist to feel comfortable in two oppositional printmaking mediums. In comparison to the gestural and low-tech process of monotyping, lithography has an exceptional learning curve to simply produce a one-color print. Interestingly, the artist’s monotypes and lithographs are similar to her paintings, but two different ways, as if they were created by different personalities. The lithographs are thoughtful and restrained; their trajectory seems to follow a prescribed path of resolution similar to her large scale paintings.
Eisenman’s exquisite lithographs are meticulous and developed; these are not amateur works. In comparison to the now-ness of her monotypes the lithographs contain more art history in their essence. The inky darkness of the medium is used to its advantage. In Threesome, obscurity and omission of information hide everything except a few succulent, surreal moments where the image of two people kissing in a Felix Vallotton-like world are revealed to be one person whose somber and unwavering gaze burns into the viewer. The worlds and figures she depicts are quiet and haunted, an equal match for their gloomy palette.
If there was ever any doubt whether printmaking could stand confidently alongside painting this exhibition demonstrates just that. Nicole Eisenman flexes her creative muscles with poise yet manages a ferocious and semi impenetrable style across four printmaking methods that are as dissimilar in process as in result. The final test, integrating this adept printmaking knowledge back into painting, will surely lead to exciting discoveries in her future work.