Painter Gregory Eltringham opened his exhibition “Something for Everyone” at Satellite66 in San Francisco this past weekend. Forty-five paintings comprise the show: mostly acrylic on panel, sizes ranging from postcard-intimate to life-size portraits, the two largest works on stretched canvas. The show’s title is allusory and fitting for the collection of paintings Eltringham presents us, moments drawn from suggestive tales.
Eltringham loves color and each figure wears their chroma well. A fleshy pink cuts through the series and the artist’s use of contrast stands out immediately. Complementary color clashes and confusing light dominate the compositions. Anxious shadows gnarl in cornered spaces. A candied, phantasmal domesticity inspires each form; we can even hear the pound cake baking in the kitchen. Soon, we see it. Emotion heats up, like a john’s blood flowing through his thighs, once the viewer begins to weave a story between the pictures. Furthermore, Eltringham calculates the hue of each work, playing with our feelings, leading us around the gallery to make visual connections between the characters.
These characters appear to be a family, a menagerie of personalities somehow interconnected in their domestic settings, though, we never see them directly united in the same work. On the occasions where they join, the figures dress in costume or fetish garb, and it is indiscernible who participates in those scenes. Masked as animals, perversion abounds in moments of frottage and fellatio. Legs nervously tilt askew affected by voyeuristic glances. The viewer is never clear as to whether there is an assailant or a victim here.
However, the presence of two adolescent children incites confusion and horror of their inclusion at this masquerade. The children innocently wear costumes, possibly removed from the spectacle in time and space, at least one hopes. For the adults, though, detachment and diversion are their goals, as we catch glances up short skirts and participate in masturbation happening in front of a mirror. Two older figures – grandparents, perhaps – and the depiction of an outsider of a different race add to this familial enigma.
All this confusion is resolved in Eltringham’s execution of his surfaces. Flat, textureless paint thinly coats the panels, applied in a vibrato of brushstrokes characteristic of a cold hand scratching a wanton lover. Our characters have become all surface, locked inside dimly light chambers, creatures of fantasy in corporeal escape. We see them composed, we see them exposed, we see them fractured. Cartoon roles surrogate for real intimacy. Faces removed of their costume are austere, glib, or lost, if not totally blurred and scratched away.
Eltringham’s work is dirty, deviant, and daring. There is something for everyone inside this family unit, no member exempt from duality or subjugation. Panels that present the outside world – a barn, a fenced-in backyard – suggest this world may not exist. However, this series of work reminds us what does exist, hidden in the shadows of society.
Pondering each painting separately, we can appreciate the singular emotions that emanate from each panel – a charismatic son, the beauty of a morose contemplation, or the excitement of a kinky, living-room blowjob. Yet shocking scenes only demonstrate compensation for some unknown sense of loss. With this family, our fraught need to interject is muted by a sense of their emotional vacancy and a sad indivisibility. These people are just shadows in their own world and their assemblage evokes a sense of irreparable collapse.
Bottom Left: Autofellatio
Bottom Right: Lunch Date
All acrylic on panel, Gregory Ellingham, 2012