If Nihilists believe in nothing, then what do you call those who believe all things have meaning? Both are forms of extremism; and yet each of us tends towards one end of the spectrum or the other. Jason Ecer and Matt Eickhoff seem to hover somewhere in the middle ground. In their joint exhibition Fore Armed Painting: Ecer v Eickhoff at Dean Johnson, the two artists converge their visual voices — and, apparently, their belief systems — to create a collaborative body of work that suggests a happy neutrality, but one that occasionally betrays a complex pessimism or its sometimes simplistic opposite.
What is most striking, though, other than the experimental nature of the exhibition — which is to be applauded — is that such a happening is taking place in the by-and-large safe venue of Dean Johnson. The gallery, a not-for-profit arm of the advertising and design agency, regularly mounts exhibitions of pleasant enough, occasionally challenging work that is often loosely curated in the group show format. Such is not the case with Fore Armed Painting, which is perhaps the most cohesive and compelling show DJ Gallery has mounted to date. There’s no nod here to the design field unless one considers the collaborative nature of design in the context of a larger creative team — but even that’s a stretch; perhaps a gratuitous one. The Dean Johnson philosophy, though, encompasses an expansive view of the arts, and includes support for the visual art community for the sake of supporting the visual art community.
Making the most of DJ’s light-filled, large space, Ecer and Eickhoff have created a large body of work, with all but three pieces painted by both artists. The collaborative pieces are painted on plywood boards in an “Ashcan meets Matisse” style: The Ashcan painters depicted the gritty side of urban life in an equally loose style, but it bordered on the pessimistic; while Matisse’s abstractions were more visually intellectual but mostly upbeat. Matisse was in part responsible for Fauvism, a brilliantly colorful style of painting that preceded Expressionism.
Ecer and Eickhoff reveal a joy of expression in their rough-cut style, and there’s a spontaneity to boot that renders even the darkest or primitive of the images a pleasure to behold. “George Washington Crosses the Delaware,” for instance, is perhaps apolitical (dare I say patriotic?) and yet it is potentially ironic — depending on what the viewer brings to the table. Likewise “Benjamin Franklin Discovers Electricity,” with its well-executed palette of green and blue suggesting the kite, the trees and the night sky from historic lore.
Most enigmatic, perhaps, is “The Truth About God,” a conceptual suggestion of two mismatched stones on a seesaw floating in what appears to be a cattail swamp.
What is the truth about God, indeed?