Eve Ackroyd: Apollo On Earth

by Sid Feddema

The British artist Explores The Vulnerability of The Male Psyche One Brushstroke At A Time

Eve Ackroyd is an art star in the ascendant, whose studies of human form suggest a sublime existential simplicity in which individual identity is negated in favour of transcendence from traditional notions of selfhood. Hailing from London but living in Brooklyn, New York the increasingly celebrated artist is in the last week of her celebrated show at HILDE, Los Angeles­, which presents a universe of bodies and space in which the human animal becomes an abstracted other, communicated in a series of clean minimalist lines and brushstrokes. Although these are brilliantly executed studies of the male form there is something preternatural about the work that Ackroyd presents that takes us beyond notions of gender and into a somewhat disquieting space of asexual reflection–not least because all of the subjects are decapitated, which seems to strangely emasculate them. We took some time out with the artist to discuss her latest work and find out why she believes masculinity can be a curse.

Would you describe yourself as an artist or a female artist? When is the personhood of the artist immaterial when looking at the work?

I’m an artist and woman. I would avoid the term ‘female artist’ as it tends to gauge a women’s success in term of men’s. However, I love the work of so many women artists specifically because of the very personal subjects they have chosen to explore–motherhood, female desire…. and the real fight they’ve had to make work in a very white male led art world/western patriarchal society. I think people often seek a personal narrative when looking at art–particularly in the kind of work I make–a kind of ‘romantic’ figurativism; but I would hope that they could experience my work in a purely physical manner, without having to know who made it.

As an artist working in the paradigm of the female gaze, how do you approach masculinity?

I (like every other undergraduate art student) read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing and the idea of the Male Gaze really was a revelation to me–everything in our image-based world suddenly made sense and I felt this new urgency and desire to make work that challenged this tradition. My work has always centered on the body and considered how it has been represented in history–for my show at HILDE LA Apollo on Earth I made a series of 14 paintings of male nudes that referenced the Greek God. I spent a few days in the MET making drawings and I was looking up towards all these strong beautiful beings–I knew I didn’t want to perpetuate any kind of similar exaggerated machismo in my paintings of the men–there’s plenty of that. The week I happened to start work on them was Trump’s first few days in office and I felt haunted by that image of him with his all white male cabinet, signing the Anti-Abortion Executive order. I ended up taking off all the heads in the series of paintings and isolating the figures–it wasn’t meant as a violent or mocking action, it was actually a way for me to humanize them and allow them to be vulnerable. The tyranny of masculinity is just as damaging as any ideas of femininity.

What do you seek to capture in your portraiture? What fascinates you about the human form and the abstraction of that form?

My paintings are rarely of a particular person, an idea for a painting will often begin with a desire to communicate a feeling or sensation, the body is not exactly the subject, rather the medium in which to explore an inner landscape and wider contemporary themes. I never paint the figures clothed, as I don’t want them to be considered within a particular place or time. Within the intimacy of my work and lack of action–I want to elicit a familiar experience for the viewer–to be seduced by the colour and brushstroke, but also consider the strangeness and disquiet.

“The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own” – this quote by Susan Sontag relates to photography, but I believe it could be applied to painting. What do you think of what she expresses here?

Yes, a particularly prescient thing to write years before we were all getting lost in Instagram rabbit holes. It also very much echoes John Berger: ‘A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself…. From earliest childhood she is taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does, because how she appears to others–and particularly how she appears to men–is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life.’ It’s pretty terrible that this is even more pertinent today, than it was over forty years ago, it could definitely be said that we’re regressing.

Is it an imperative for art to comment upon the zeitgeist–is all great art political in nature?

I think good art is always in a conversation with the environment in which it’s made, so will inevitably address current issues. I definitely don’t believe it should have to have an unyielding political dogma. Half of the artists picked for the current Whitney Biennale are women or people of colour–and the scope of the themes tackled shows this. It should be the responsibility of institutions to give a platform to as many different voices as possible; art should be a space for empathy and question.

For me, there is an existential emptiness to your work –In a way it’s a negation of identity – is this a fair reading?

I’m interested in trying to depict very private moments–still but seductive in their colour and brushstroke–and I want their physical presence to draw the viewer in, so they can inhabit this emotional landscape. I think there is an anxiety and unrest in my figures, but there’s also humour and those sit closely together. I feel so much a part of the work when I am making it–I’m very aware of my own body and how I respond to the images as I create them. Being in the studio making paintings is a magical thing to get to do but in relation to what’s happening in the outside world, it can feel redundant. I’m in awe of humanity’s achievements, but equally depressed by our continued ability to behave so terribly, and my paintings all come from this rich and tangled argument that I have taking place in my head.

Written by John Paul-Pryor