Katelyn Eichwald: Never
On ViewFortnight Institute
September 8 – October 24, 2021
There is a wicked alchemy to Katelyn Eichwald’s work. Her modestly-sized paintings of ordinary subject matter—piled rope, a gleaming white turret, a shadowy clockface—bewitch us, like scrims, portals, or talismans might. In the autumnal Chapel (all works 2021), a crenellated church nestles within a curved strip of forest and behind an array of tiny grave markers. In Outside the House, two suited men convene alongside a parked car and a wishing well whose tawny hues nearly render it invisible. In other paintings, Eichwald crops her things more closely, and in these action impends: a finger pushes back the black cuff of a sleeve, a zipper remains partly unfastened, an unlit cigarette in cupped hands awaits its fire. But the paintings transport us far beyond these things and locales, taking us instead to a place of recollection and fantasy that is non-specific, yet highly personal to each beholder because forged over a lifetime from family relics, childhood fables, museum artifacts, and the artifice of film. All of this suggests that the works are profoundly concerned with time: the different ways it has been measured and recorded in bygone eras, its suspension in moments of deep engagement, and the impossibility of truly knowing the past and perhaps even the present.
The making of Eichwald’s work proceeds, literally, from stopped time. Eichwald finds inspiration from screenshots she takes while watching movies on her laptop, the accumulation of which constitutes an archive indexing her conceptual and aesthetic inclinations in, say, any given month. A pocket-sized artist’s book that accompanies this show, beautifully designed by Fortnight Institute’s Kayla Gartenberg, gathers these freeze-frames. More esoterically, Eichwald’s paintings critically engage the desire for the simplicity of bygone days and rural life characteristic of the pastoral tradition, in which virtue is found not in the heroic but in the humble. As Thomas Crow has written, the pastoral allows a distinctive voice to be constructed from the contrast between large artistic ambitions and an awareness of our limited horizons and modest powers. In the current landscape of critical discourse (and figurative painting), which exalts embodied and identitarian experience, Eichwald’s paintings share in the larger preoccupation with experiences that have been historically undervalued, or which “enlightenment” values and its afterlives have cast aside. Mysticism, medieval almanacs, and other sources of occult practice have long offered respite in a world optimized for efficiency, industry, and production, one increasingly regularized by mechanical and technological time. As the wristwatch’s missing hands in Never (from which the exhibition takes its name) instruct, Eichwald proposes a temporality that accommodates itself to other ways—whether spiritual or otherwise non-normative—of being in the world.
Five of the 11 paintings in Never measure three by four feet, marking a significant increase in scale for Eichwald, whose prior work tended toward the size of a sticky note or smaller. In another shift, Eichwald has begun closely cropping her images; the pastoral’s ambition to press something profound through the self-conscious humility of a limited point of view is here manifest formally. The double innovation of scaling up while zooming in works well in large works like Lit or Thirsty, which nonetheless retain the small canvases’ sensibility as reverent objects. Materially, they draw us in, too: painted unprimed or atop clear acrylic primer on linen or canvas, Eichwald’s paintings are distinctly textural, with almost linty surfaces. The artist appears to rub oil into her support, loosening the canvas fibers and resulting—especially in gray and green passages—in mottled surfaces that record the inconsistent pressure of the hand and the uneven saturation of pigment. This materiality reveals itself slowly; the paintings do not wholly unveil their magic at once. It is hard to resist approaching very closely, the way one might examine the knotty arabesques of a manuscript illumination or the intricate, all-over miniatures of a nursery storybook. This retreat to the experience of childhood or to the ecstasy of devotion elicits another kind of time travel, that of the state of remembering. Thus Eichwald’s referents—her castles, roses, clocks, and crime scenes—necessarily exist in that margin between the utterly specific and the unidentifiably general, for as Proust wrote of souls long encased in inanimate things, “as soon as we recognize their voice the spell is broken.”