TEN BILLION LIGHT YEARS IN DIAMETER
EHFC/MUSEO DE ARTE DE PUERTO RICO
The paintings that are featured in this exhibition were created from thousands of dots of varying size and color, many in relief. The result is in a vibrating, swarming mass that mutates into an endless variety of shapes, which often seem like microorganisms that cover the entire surface of the canvas without leaving any empty spaces. Despite their size, these works recall microscope slides teeming with minute living creatures. The painting titles, however, are culled from astrophysics and allude to galaxies, novas,
quarks, newly formed stars, and the multifaceted foundations of galactic creation. This visual contrast posits a dilemma between an apparent terrestrial microcosm and what the artist explicitly affirms in terms of a galactic macrocosm, a dichotomy that we should analyze in greater detail.
Eric French hails from a family of believers. His grandfather was a Protestant minister in the Church of God and his parents were practicing Catholics. This ideological schism, which he experienced throughout his life, never caused any conflicts for the artist. Since his childhood, French felt a great fascination for nature, particularly for flowers, which was fostered by his mother a student of microbiology, who would take him along to class and on field trips—a magical experience spent searching for rare plant species in the rainforest of El Yunque. French also showed an early interest for drawing, which continued to develop over time. Despite his indifference and poor performance in other school subjects, he inevitably excelled in art school.
The reference to a specific duality (which in French’s case has been resolved)—between the faith of the believer in a beyond and the universe as it has been mapped out by the sciences—has been a constant throughout French’s artistic career. The titles of his solo exhibitions certainly point to the significance of these influences: Germinación [Germination] (1994), Apocalyptic Vision (1997), Jardín seco [Dry Garden] (2000), Tribulaciones [Tribulations] (2001), Mi nuevo jardín [My New Garden] (2003), Engineering a Flower (2004), Entropy (2006), and Infinity (2008). The artist has a varied catalogue of works, which, aside from highly personal works focusing on flowers and gardens, where penises and vaginas may be interspersed with mushroom clouds, offer evidence of his faith in the complementary yet often diametrically opposed forces of creation and destruction Similarly, he often presents Biblical themes and characters, the latter oddly assumed in the first person as self-portraits,
which compel us to view the artist as something of a demiurge, comparable to a God, the creator of an intimate yet ultimately art/ificial universe.
It should be noted that French’s self-avowed Christian faith, which is also present in his work, is hardly common among contemporary artists, or their Modernist predecessors, who have tended to be drawn more often to discourses relating to exotic (often Asian) religions or belief systems or to nostalgic or idealized concepts of primitivism. For French, however, religious belief does not necessarily mean that one refutes the principles or findings of science, since these are simply the evidence or palpable result of divine intervention.
A question that certainly comes to mind at this point, especially after considering that these works composed of colored points seem insistently similar to microbiological cultures, and that the artist has devised titles by referencing terms from astrophysics, is whether they are in fact abstract. The question ceases to be rhetorical the minute we can isolate clear evidence of any “detectable environment.” However, unlike abstract art—whether rigorously geometric, Platonic, lyrical or gestural—French’s paintings always seem to be grounded in some organic reality. They point inevitably to an object, and are thus signs of some existing form, even if we do not immediately perceive it. Despite the freedom with which the object has been expressed—not by literally copying it, but by interpreting or even inventing it— something already existing is nonetheless indicated. As with his plants and flowers, French does not simply imitate the constellations. Instead he invents, recreates, and imagines them. His recent works draw upon the latest photography of outer space. These images offer an extraordinary panorama of unusual colors and forms that are quite different from what we observe of the heavens with the naked eye. Based on this evidence, the artist’s interpretations of the universe may serve as a harbinger for the astounding images that we will see in the future.
For each of the six acrylic canvases in this exhibition, the artist first took two details, which he then enlarged photographically, printed on watercolor paper, and then intervened again using acrylic paint. This continual process of multiplication is also a metaphor for the processes that occur naturally in outer space. What we see in space appears initially to be something diminutive; when it is enlarged using modern technology, it is still light years away.
Like some 21st-century gnostic, Eric French uses the medium of painting—and its eternal ally, imagination—as a way to understand the occult mysteries of divine creation. The diameter of the universe, according to the scientific calculations consulted by the artist, is at least 10 billion light years. The diameter of creative imagination and fantasy is apparently much larger still.
Juan Carlos López Quintero Curator,
Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico
1994 - 1996 Master of Fine Arts Degree, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Ga. US., Magna Cum Laude
1988 - 1994 Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree, EAP., School of Fine Arts, Old San Juan, PR., Cum Laude