Going Extinct with Matthew Eickhoff 

When I walked up to the 2nd floor of the Murphy Buiding after 10 p.m. on First Friday, May 1, I found the door closed and locked to the Mt. Comfort Gallery space where Eickhoff had been showing his work in a show entitled Extinction. Fortunately for me, there two huge acrylic paintings on Evolon (both measuring nine feet by six-and-a-half feet) just outside the door. The first, entitled "The Endless City" might be described as a brutalist cityscape as seen from above. But the style is abstracted, everything is in grayscale, and each tower is pretty much a replica of its neighbors, like carbon molecules are carbon copies of each other.

The second one, "Beneath the Moon," really grabbed me though. The focal point was the interior of a coliseum-like construction, and the pitch black center seemed to have its own gravity drawing you in as if into a black hole. Again, this painting is mostly in black and white and shades in between, with deep contrasts between the shadows under the arches and the light shining on the pedestrian walkways. But in the distance you can see the white outlines of a modern city. Perhaps it's Rome, perhaps it’s Indianapolis, or perhaps it’s a cityscape not of this world.

Speaking of Indy, "Beneath the Moon" made me think of a painting in the IMA’s permanent collection: That is "The Colosseum and Other Monuments" by 18th Century Italian painter Giovanni P. Panini in which he lumped the Colosseum together with other Roman monuments in the same vista. The style might be completely different, but in their evocation of the ruins of a once great civilization, maybe not. Eickhoff’s painting, in mood at least, is sort of like Panini crossed with one of Rothko’s black paintings.

Intrigued by what I had seen in the hallway, I returned to the Murphy five days later: Eickhoff was there, this time around and he gave me a tour.

Much more relevant to this discussion than the aforementioned painters is the late Ed Funk, who died in 2013. Funk also liked to paint large. And of course, any history of the Murphy Building — and the Indy art scene in general — would be woefully incomplete without mentioning Funk, who was a close friend and business partner to Eickhoff.

"Part of the reason I wanted to have the show here is that some of the scenes relate to Ed Funk," he said. "I wanted to tie the personal story I had with this mythical story that I was writing."

We’ll get to the story in a second, but let’s turn to the first thing Eickhoff showed me, which were his mixed media "Expedition Portraits." For said portraits, Eickhoff first took photographs of Funk's closest friends. He then drew in marker and pencil over everything using a velum overlay — save for the faces — drawing the men into bizarre explorer costumes. And in the backdrop you have Funk's abstract paintings. The clash of different styles, colors, mediums and techniques is pretty amazing here, all pressed together in what Eickhoff calls "old school" Photoshop and then printed out digitally.

Eickhoff also showed me his assemblage featuring a toy bison roaming on a range made from AA batteries in a framed two-inch-deep box enclosed by glass entitled "The Last Bison Left in Japan" from a series entitled "Aquarium Experiments V."

“This aquarium, it's one of the ways I've been working, where I actually project onto an object and then I take a picture of that," says Eickhoff. "But as I progressed in my studies, I started thinking of it as a piece of art in itself."

One might ask at this point how all this work connects together: it is actually all bound together in book form. You see in the book, the prints from "The Exhibition Portraits," a photograph of the bison bathed in blue light — as well as other photographs of assemblages, and some of the backgrounds in the large Evolon paintings along with more mixed media work.

PHOTO BY DAN GROSSMAN
  • Photo by Dan Grossman

This isn't any normal book though; when opened up it almost covered the entire surface of the table it was resting on, a unique single edition. And it incorporates something in the cover that is a reminder of the connection Eickhoff had with Ed Funk. The spine of the book incorporates shirt fabric.

"This fabric is a shirt that I gave to Ed probably about ten years ago," Eickhoff said. "So he wore it. It was too big for me."

The painting "Beneath the Moon" that I liked so much, while it doesn’t appear in the book, is referenced in it. But, funny enough, the title refers not to an earthly scene bathed in moonlight, but an abandoned city underneath the moon's surface!

The book's title is the same of that of the exhibition: Extinction. The letters on the title are cutouts on paper, explicitly referring to absence. The opening scene shows a painting of a flooded Indianapolis. But this story, which doesn't, at least at this point, involve written words, follows an exhibition from Earth to Mars to the fabricated moon Astoria in orbit around Jupiter and places beyond — via a wormhole.(Hence the exhibition portraits mentioned earlier.)

"There's a personal story as well as what I think of as a global story," Eickhoff said. "It's kind of creating a myth that is a blend of Lewis and Clark and also native American myths."

Unfortunately, for those who want to see Eickhoff's work, the Mt. Comfort exhibition is now closed. But the good news is that his book is on display at Herron as part of Eickhoff’s MFA exhibition. He graduates this year. And if you're there he just may read the book for you if you ask, as he did at the Mt. Comfort Gallery space, and he says that he really enjoys this performance aspect of his work; in each rendering he can tell the story in a slightly different way.

"When I get to the end of a story reading, I tell people that it doesn't have a happy ending because we’re supposed to feel something," Eickhoff said. "The end is extinction. I don’t think of myself as an environmental artist, but environment concerns me. You almost have to come at it in a backwards way to make them feel something."

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