Working in a remote area of the Southeast, US, presents a number of challenges in relation to exhibiting work outside of my immediate region. This most recent project is part of a year-long investigation of exhibition strategies addressing space, portability (both in terms of transporting work and creating a moving studio practice) and the formal and conceptual connectivity within the work itself.
I participated in four exhibitions, two solo and two duo, during a twelve month period from June 2011 to June 2012, making a new body of work for each show. The work from the third series of paintings was initiated in Johnson Vermont during a four-week residency in November and December 2011 and was created for an Exhibition to be held at Satellite 66 in San Francisco in March 2012. The goal was to keep the entire project self-contained, driving to the locations for production and for exhibition without the use of a specialized vehicle. The materials for production in Vermont were transported in an unassuming Ford Escape, and the works for the exhibition in San Francisco were driven from Savanna, GA in a rented Toyota Camry, 45 panels comfortably packed in the trunk.
In order to do this, the individual components needed to be scaled down. I had already been making smaller panel pieces in order to work through a range of ideas and motifs that had been percolating into my practice since 2010. The small-scale work has allowed for an avenue of experimentation and invention, and unexpectedly offered a flexible framework during installation. I was bringing work to venues that were unfamiliar to me, and, while I was provided with floor plans and images of each gallery, I was not interested in making work to fit within a particular space. Instead, I wanted to see how the work could function on arrival, which allowed for improvisation and options when installing the work. Traveling with my studio materials and working in an unfamiliar environment opened up possibilities that can often be repressed within a predictable working venue.
Isolation, both geographic and social, at least for the first two weeks in Vermont, allowed me to expand on three distinct developing genres within my practice: portraiture, landscape or more precisely structures in landscape; a series described as Dreamhouses, and narrative. Eventually, each genre began to inform the other and the structures led back to painting portraits (derived from photographic images) while the figures flowed into new narrative constructions. The narratives retained the spontaneity of the preliminary work, and accompanied by the portraits, explored the idea of the inhabitants that may be dwelling in the Dreamhouses. Developing these invented figures in an unencumbered space opened up a range of possibilities, and the tone of the work was influenced by the change in architecture and landscape as I moved geographically from the Southeast to the Northeast.
Initially, I kept the genres separate over the course of the four-week period in Vermont. A series of portraits, of individuals who were now absent from my life at home, were hung salon-style on one wall. On the opposite wall a counter body of work developed from ideas generated and recorded on the journey to Vermont from Savannah, Georgia was arranged. These included structures in landscapes and invented figures and narratives of individuals engaged in questionable or bad behavior. While this was in some ways an extension of previous works that dealt with institutional forces that affected individual behavior; these particular narratives were directly related to personal behaviors that are within an individuals’ control. They include acts of voyeurism and narcissistic conduct that investigate issues of trust and underlying intentions.
Ultimately, this project attempts to reconcile the three bodies of work (portraits, travel experience and institutional responses) so that they can coexist. During the final two weeks of the residency I began to hang the work on one wall. Combining the imagery as a way to construct large interconnected pieces that allowed for multiple readings. Time and distance away from the work after the residency enabled me to reevaluate some of these arrangements prior to the exhibition in March. After returning to my permanent studio space I was able to reconsider the work in a new way. In addition, the four-day drive to San Francisco, and the subsequent drive back, offered additional time to consider new work. Finally, what transpired as a result of this project is the expansion of my practice as a whole, understanding the possibilities for production outside the ‘safety’ of my home base. The residual imprint of the space now stays with the work that I produce and it is better for it.
Gregory Eltringham graduated from the Art Institute of Boston, received a BA from Northeastern University and an MFA in painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He has exhibited nationally and internationally in exhibitions in San Francisco, CA, Brooklyn, NY, Atlanta, GA, Podgorica, Montenegro and Belgrade, Serbia. He currently lives and works in Savannah, GA.