Şafak Güneş Gökduman: Don Eddy and Photorealism (Interview)

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Şafak Güneş Gökduman: Your first paintings appear to be influenced by Surrealism. You then transitioned to Photorealism. Can you talk about this transition process?

Don Eddy: To address the influence of “Surrealism” on my work and the subsequent transition to “Photorealism,” it is necessary to start in an unlikely place – my childhood experience. I was born in Southern California to troubled family. My mother and father were divorced when I was very young. We moved from place to place in California. Matters went from bad to worse when my mother remarried. I did not get along with my stepfather. I had a sister, two years my senior, who developed serious mental illness. I was a rebellious, insecure, unhappy boy who left Southern California as soon as I could.

After on year in a junior college, I transferred to the University of Hawaii and changed my major from history to art. I also found a job as a commercial photographer to pay my tuition and living costs. After two years of basic classes, I began taking classes that allowed me to make my own work. I found that I was drawn to Rene Magritte and James Rosenquist. Both brought together a variety of images in a single painting space, each for their own purposes. Their imagistic strategies suggested a way for me to deal with my fears, doubts, and hostilities by bringing together a range of suggestive images without references to standard representational painting space. For some time this strategy proved to be fruitful, but there was a severe problem lurking behind the scenes. The problem was space. More precisely the problem was the nature of space in painting. I found that I was “using” space in the paintings but had no command or control over it. I came to the conclusion that, for the time being, I needed to abandon this psychologically based work and seriously focus on the nature of space in painting. How to do that?

I thought it would be important to examine a version of traditional illusory space in painting. I realized that I wanted to suggest a convincing sense of illusion while at the same time acknowledging the flatness of the painting surface. You will remember that I was still working as a commercial photographer. I came to the conclusion that using photographs as a reference point was the perfect solution. The photograph is a flat piece of paper. The way the camera records light heightens the sense of it’s “photographic-ness,” which when used in painting draws attention to the flat surface. Using photographs also provides a reference to traditional perspective. This was the set of tools I needed to gain command of the nature of space in painting. I returned to the imagery that I grew up with, the Southern California car culture, and reintroduced premodern linear perspective into my work. Slowly, I began making paintings that would later be called “Photorealism.” However, my interest was space, not realism.

Ş.G.G.: In his book, Louis Meisel says that you are the youngest Photorealist artist. How did you come to be included in this group?

D.E.: Between 1969 and 1970 it became clear that something was happening in contemporary American art. More and more artists were either returning to, or introducing, images and consistent spacial illusion into their work. A “Contemporary Representational Art” was being born. These artists were scattered around the United States, were a range of ages, and came from a variety of esthetic backgrounds. Further, some used photographs, some did not. Some generated very painterly surfaces, some did not. The imagery and underlying philosophies that generated the work varied.

The first person to pay real attention to this trend was Udo Kulterman. In the book, “New Realism,” Mr. Kulterman included a wide variety of these artists. Likewise, early exhibitions that focused on this work also tended to be broadly inclusive. I was pleased to be included in Mr. Kulterman’s book as well as the early exhibitions; however, I don’t believe I was the youngest artist in that group. The notion of “Photorealism” did not yet exist.

Over time, a subset of artists emerged from this broad group. Several names were proposed to identify this group’s work: Hyper-realism, Sharp Focus Realism and Photorealism. Because of Louis Meisel’s marketing strategies, Photorealism was the name that stuck. It is important to understand that Photorealism was not a movement. Rather, from a larger group of artists, a smaller group emerged because of a shared set of superficial qualities. I was indeed the youngest in that group.

Historically understood, “Photorealism” is not a movement at all. The first generation of artists came from various places in the United States. Most of us did not know one another and we each came from different esthetic backgrounds. When we finally met, we found we had very little in common other than the use of photography. In short, “Photorealism” was a marketing device, not a movement.

Studio Portrait

Ş.G.G.: According to some sources, Photorealism arose from Pop Art. How do you explain the emergence of Photorealism? What are your thoughts about the connection between them?

D.E.: I favor the title, “Contemporary Representational Painting.” The advantage of this description is that it is not only more inclusive, but suggests the source from which Photorealism emerged. In the late 1960s, a number of artists began to introduce imagery and a consistent spacial illusion into their work. These artists were scattered around the United States and Europe. They came from a broad range of esthetic convictions. Some work grew out of a rejection of abstract and minimal art. Some were attracted to the possibilities implicit in Pop Art. Some looked to premodern art for inspiration. And some (myself included) were influenced by all of the above. Abstract painting was a negative influence. It was (by then) seen as academic and elitist. Pop Art provided a positive model with it’s introduction of contemporary imagery into art. At the same time, Pop Art did not seem to go far enough in it’s investigation of the spacial implications inherent in the reintroduction of imagery into painting. In addition, it’s reliance on irony seemed to be a false and self protective intellectual move. The work that was generated in this climate was broad in scope. Some was painterly, some was not. Some used photographs as reference material, some did not. Some relied on the imagery of popular American culture, some did not.

What is now called Photorealism was a actually subset of that broader intellectual climate. The grouping that became known as Photorealism was, in fact, an artificial creation. Ironically, with the influence that “Photorealist” artists have had on younger artists, it might be argued that there is now a Photorealist Movement.

Ş.G.G.: Pop Art criticizes popular culture. Some say there is no criticism inherent in Photorealism. However, I disagree with that characterization of Photorealism. In my opinion, your work criticizes the nature of the world (e.g., The Rat and Angel Of Destruction, etc.) What are your thoughts on this?

D.E.: The content of my work has dramatically evolved over the years. (By content, I mean the intellectual substance of the work.) Correspondingly, the imagery also has changed. My work can be divided into four large, fuzzy categories that sometimes overlap. The early paintings were formal in nature. They were predominantly investigations into that nature of space in painting. The second period explores the nature of perception. In the third period, I found that my preoccupation was not with the nature of perception, but rather with the nature of experience. In due course, that investigation evolved into deeper philosophical and spiritual concerns – the fourth period. It’s important to note that these are not really “periods,” but vaguely identifiable concerns on a long progressive evolutionary line. In addition, when a new preoccupation became dominant, it does not mean that the earlier concerns were abandoned. On the contrary, they simply became implicit rather than explicit concerns – still present, but working just below the surface.

As I said above, my imagery changed to reflect my evolving intellectual concerns. Over the years, however, no matter how much the imagery changed, my attitude towards that imagery remained the same. Imagery had to meet two requirements: First, it must grow out of the context of my life; Second, the imagery must adequately meet the theoretical needs of the painting. Not just any novel imagery would do. For example, in the early 1970s I found myself needing to investigate the nature of space in painting. I wanted to create a tension between ones desire to read space into the painting and an inability to do just that. I could have used any number of images, but I choose automobiles, parts of automobiles, and their surroundings. I choose that imagery because that was the environment in which I grew up. My father owned Eddy’s Garage, an auto repair shop. I spent my youth working in the shop. As another example, I would suggest that my current work is a celebration of ontological mystery – the mystery of Being. In this work I employ a broad array of images. They include flora, fauna, landscape, animals, humans, art, etc. These are all images from a “lived life,” my life, now a somewhat long lived life. In this work, the goal is to include as much of the cosmos as I can internalize.


Ş.G.G.: Since the invention of photography, many painters have used photographs as a basis for their work. What separates a photorealist painter from an artist that simply uses photography as a tool?

D.E.: Photography, in the context of painting, is simply a tool. It is a reference source like any other documentary source. It has a practical and utilitarian value – use the right tool for the right job. But I think there is more to it than that. I have said that my generation was the first generation to experience the world deeply through various forms of reproduction. As a child, I never went to a concert but listened to music on records and the radio. I never went to a play, but watched movies and TV shows. I did not go to a museum until I was 18, but saw art reproductions and art in magazines. My world was deeply mediated by various forms of reproduction. Thinking about the photograph, I would argue that my generation was the first to “see” the world photographically. I remember arriving in Hawaii in 1962 as the sun was setting. I distinctly remember thinking that “it looked just like a photograph.” My primary experience was of sunsets on postcards, not the real thing. Photography began to challenge a “direct, unmediated” experience of the world. I would assert that this zeitgeist deeply informs current art. The virtual world is more real than the real world in some cases.

How does this play out in my work? The camera is a limited recorder of light whose limitations and characteristics are recognizable almost instantly on a subconscious level. Cameras know nothing about change, evolution, and the dynamics of our active interaction with, and immersive experience in, an environment. The camera’s sensor and lens are nothing like the complex optics of the eye. In addition, the photograph is a flat piece of paper (or was until recently) that corresponds only loosely with premodern notions like linear perspective, foreshortening, and chiaroscuro. To comprehensively use photography in painting creates a profound tension about the nature of reality. It both “looks real” and “looks like a photograph.” What’s real? Where does the real reside? Is the real the photograph? Is the real the scene or image depicted? Are we looking at a scene in space or the rending of a flat piece of paper. These questions are what marks the difference between Photorealist art and art that casually uses photography.

Ş.G.G.: How do you transfer photographic images into the imagery you use for painting?

D.E.: From 1967 to the present, I have transferred photographic information from a print to the canvas surface in three different ways. In the early days, I transferred information freehand. This method quickly proved to be inaccurate and inefficient. Abandoning that method, I adopted the premodern practice of grid-ding both the photograph and the canvas and transferring the information unit by unit. This worked as long as the information was relatively simple, but failed as the data became dense and/or uniform. I was forced to move to a projection model when I began using intricate and uniform information. Sometime in the mid 70s, I started using a slide projector to transfer complex information (e.g., silverware) from the photograph to the painting surface. The process was somewhat cumbersome because I was still working from B&W photographs. I would take the photos, make B&W prints and then rephotograph the prints with slide film. Slowly, I moved from B&W photography to color negative film and finally to slide film. Each shift in technology necessitated a corresponding change in the transfer work flow. In general, however, my methodology remained more or less the same until about three years ago when I went fully digital, which resulted in a significant change. I now use digital cameras. I process the images through a variety of computer software. I do all my own printing. Finally, I transfer the information using a digital projector. This work flow has given me an unimagined degree of creative control in an area of my art that was previously dumbly mechanical.

Ş.G.G.: Other Photorealists tend to use consistent imagery; they tend to focus on specific objects. Conversely, your images have changed over time (cars, shop windows, etc.). Is this change a conscious choice?

D.E.: I use certain words in a very specific way. It might be useful explore a few words and examine how I use then. First, when I use the word subject I am not referring to the scene or image depicted, but the content or conceptual issues that inform the painting. Second, I use the word image to describe the “thing” (or “things”) depicted. I avoid using the word object because it is an inappropriate word for the spacial condition I develop in the painting. For me, an image is an object – an object from which I have stripped three dimensional being. This is something that photography does by it’s very nature and is at the heart of why I use photography. For me, an image is more akin to a “sign” than an “object.”

The imagery in my work has shifted over the years and there is a paradox at work here. The odd thing about my relationship to imagery is that I both deeply care about it, and at the same time, don’t care at all. On the one hand, the imagery is just the tool to allow me to explore a certain philosophical or spiritual domain. I don’t really care about the imagery except to the degree that it serves an appropriate utilitarian purpose. On the other hand, I care deeply about the imagery.

How do I explain that contradiction? I realized very early in my development that when confronted with a painterly problem I wanted to solve, there were any number of image sets that would adequately solve that problem. Therefore, I needed additional criteria to decide which set of images was the most useful in addressing the issue. I came to the realization that there was always an image set that grew out of the unique context of my life – that was the deeply right imagery to use. In that sense, I care deeply about the images, not for themselves as “subject,” but only to the degree that they meet my criteria: They must be useful to exploring a given territory and they must grow out of my existential reality.

In summary, my imagery has changed over the years to adequately meet the needs of my intellectual and spiritual development. It also has changed relative to my life adventures. One might notice that the recent work incorporates a very broad range of imagery from the microscopic to the cosmic. My goal is to have the entire universe of images at my disposal.

Ş.G.G.: Aside from shifts in imagery, there are definite color shifts as well. Would you please discuss the issue of color in your work?

D.E.: There has been no aspect of art that has plagued me more than the issue of color. My attempts to understand and gain some command of the issue explains the changes in my use of color over the years. Even during my university years, it was evident me that part of the the trouble with color is that it is particularly resistant to language. I realized that before I could even begin to address the subject, I needed some kind of guiding framework. After some thought, it occurred to me that color and it’s use could be divided into three categories: the formal use of color; the expressive use of color; and an area of color use I will call “Me” color. I had no interest in the expressive use of color. That is, the way in which color can be evidence of emotions or psychological states. I ruled that use out. I was, however, very interested in the formal use of color as a way of creating and maintaining a sense of spacial tension in painting. I was deeply influenced by Hans Hoffman, Henri Matisse, and Pierre Bonnard. This investigation proved fruitful and lasted from about 1969 to 1975. Even though I now felt that I had a small understanding of color, I remained dissatisfied.

In 1975, I decided to reject a broad use of color and return to, essentially, monochromatic painting. My goal was to build a foundation on which I could understand value as color and then from that base reintroduce more varied color into the painting in a highly controlled way. I hoped to address the use of color that I call “Me” color by adopting this strategy. “Me” color is an extremely complex concept. It is color that is connected to identity. It may employ the other uses of color but it is something different. It fascinated me that one could always identify a Matisse, a Bonnard, or any other great artist by their unique use of color. The color in those paintings was not just formal or expressive, it was their color. By 1981, I felt ready to address the issue of color and existential identity. I have continued to explore this territory from that date to the present. My exploration continues along side the other aspects of my development. By now, this investigation of color, though important, is more implicit than explicit in my work.

Ş.G.G.: Even though you use different objects, such as cars, shop windows, or silver objects, many of your works are studies of reflective surfaces. Why is that?

D.E.: Anyone reading my answers to previous questions may able to guess why reflective surfaces appear so often in my work. First, they are effective imagery given my theoretical concerns; and second, they are the kind of things I grew up with. I have talked at length about the question of spacial tension in my work. The images of cars, store fronts, glasses, etc. were useful images in that pursuit. As my work developed, I also became interested in the relationship between order and chaos, and the relationship between abstraction and representation. Again, reflective imagery was useful to explore these issues.

Reflective surfaces have a way of obscuring the boundaries and character of objects in space. When collected together and turned into images, the degree of uncertainty is exponentially increased and the possibility of chaos enters the picture. This was my strategy in the silverware, glassware, and toy paintings. My intent was to develop work that was highly representational while also having strong abstract undercurrent. I also wanted to make paintings that were deeply ordered, but flirted with chaos. To address these issues, I did not need to look beyond the images that populated my life, the images of middle class Southern Californian popular culture.

Ş.G.G.: Your painting, Harley Hub, appears to be influenced by the reflections in Jan van Eyck’s work, Wedding of Arnolfini and Self Portrait of Parmigianino. May I suggest that you reinterpret the classics?

D.E.: When I made the painting titled “Harley Hub,” I was familiar with the Van Eyck and Parmigianino paintings mentioned above, but they had no influence on the genesis of my painting. I was not interested in self portraiture in “Harley Hub” or any other painting. My image is reflected only because of the camera angle and the fact that I decided not to remove my presence from the larger image. The similarity of iconography is purely coincidental.

Though this instance of iconographic similarity is coincidental, the question remains an interesting one. Are there cases in which I have used or “reinterpreted” the work of other artists? The answer is yes; the history of my work is littered with examples. The chain link fences in the Private Parking or Wrecking Yard painting were inspired by Manet’s “The Railway” painting. In some of the shoe paintings, the colors of the shoes are directly lifted from certain Matisse paintings. For over thirty years, I have included the paintings and sculptures of other artists in my work.

Ş.G.G.: You said, “I would suggest that my current work is a celebration of ontological mystery – the mystery of Being. In this work I employ a broad array of images. They include flora, fauna, landscape, animals, humans, art, etc. These are all images from a “lived life,” my life, now a somewhat long lived life. In this work, the goal is to include as much of the cosmos as I can internalize.” In this context, how should artists deal with world wars, poverty, and injustice? Should artists depict their political ideals in paintings? Do you reflect your political viewpoint in your work?

D.E.: The goal is to end suffering. Manifestations such as war and poverty are instances of that suffering. Some philosophers and artists contend that every act is political and that includes the creation of art. In this world view, because art is by nature a political act, it is imperative that the artist take direct responsibility for social wrongs and mobilize their art to address those wrongs. It is appropriate for an artist to directly confront social issues that he or she finds loathsome. This perspective has a long and noble history, and is a reasonable position for an artist to take. But I have two problems with it: one general and one personal. My general problem with this view of art is that it does not work very well. Those who value overtly political art tend to be predisposed to agree with the position manifested in the work. Those who don’t agree are unlikely to be converted and are likely scandalized by the work. They then generate conflictual opposition to it, thereby adding to the volume of suffering.

My personal problem with this world view is that I lack strong political feelings. I admit to having no political instincts and no interest in politics. Where I directly experience suffering around me, I chose to act on a personal level outside the context of my art. However, I hope my current work functions, in part, as a source of healing. I believe it is generated out of an inner core of peace and empathy. It is my devout hope that an experience of the work yields a sense of peace that dissolves the anguished desires that breed suffering and hurt.

Ş.G.G.: The mirror is an important symbol in mythology and various religions. Do the reflections in your works have symbolic meaning?

D.E.: The simple answer is no, the images in my work do not have any symbolic meaning. There is no stage of my work in which the images have had symbolic value, and this includes my current work. That being said, something like symbolic meaning is generated in the current work. This requires some explanation. In my current work, a single painting is made up of three or more separate panels. Each panel is a different image. For example, a single painting might be made up of three different images on three separate panels that when finished are displayed together as one painting. This juxtaposition creates a condition that generates meaning out of nothingness. Each separate image has no symbolic value, but when the three images are put together, meaning is generated by their dialogue with each other. Working backwards, one is inclined to read symbolic value into each image even though it’s not inherently present.

A useful way to think about this is to understand that the meaning is not inherently in the work but rather in the observer of the work. In this way of thinking, the painting, like a poem, is an “occasion” for the observer to generate meaning internally which they then impute to the painting. Another way of thinking about this is to imagine the observer as a necessary part of the work. It is in the observers active relationship with the work that meaning is generated and the painting is completed. Does the imagery have symbolic value? No. Rather a dance of meaning generation is created in the dynamic relationship between the painting and the person experiencing the painting.

Ş.G.G.: Photorealism is also known as “Hyperrealism” or “Sharp Focus Realism.” You have been represented in shows described by all of these terms. Would you please discuss your participation in these shows? Is Sharp Focus Realism synonymous with Photorealism or a technical term used in Photorealism?

D.E.: There seems to be an inherent human need to classify and name. In the late 1960s, there were a wide range of artists turning to, or returning to, representational painting. It soon became clear that this was not an oddity, but a shift in attitude on the part of a large number of artists. Once the trend became clear there was a need to name it. One of first group shows of this work in New York was organized by the Sidney Janis Gallery. The exhibition was titled “Sharp Focus Realism.” The organizer of the exhibition wanted to include a wide range of artists, some of which used photography and some not, but all of which painted with precision. In an attempt to identify the exhibition and the character of the work in the exhibition, the name “Sharp Focus Realism” was invented. Many other names followed, many of which were also the titles for exhibitions. The Europeans favored “Hyperrealism.” The Americans seemed to favor “Photorealism” to describe that subset of artists that used photographs as reference material. Though inevitable, the obsessive need to name and classify is counter-productive. It drains attention from the individual value of each artist and each work, as well as obscuring the formidable differences between the artists.

Ş.G.G.: Are you familiar with Turkish artists, writer or musicians? What do you think about Turkey? Have you ever been to Turkey? If not, are you interested in visiting? Do you want to open an exhibition in Turkey?

D.E.: I am ashamed to admit that my knowledge of modern Turkey is lamentably poor. In the past few years I have taken courses that dealt with Ancient Asia Minor and with the Byzantium Empire, but nothing modern. Likewise, I’m equally weak in my knowledge of the Turkish cultural world. I have only recently purchased several books written by Orhan Pamuk. Meeting Deniz Gokduman and Safak Gunes Gokduman has aroused my interest in Turkey and my desire to visit. Of course, I would love the opportunity to share my work.

Ş.G.G.: Will you have an exhibition soon?

D.E.: No, I have no plans for an exhibition in the near future. I work very slowly. It takes several years to accumulate enough work for an exhibition. My next show is scheduled for November 2012.bir göstergedir.

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Hakkında Şafak G. GÖKDUMAN

2000- İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Türk Dili ve Edebiyatı Bölümünden mezun oldu. 2001-2002- İstanbul Teknik Üniversitesinde İnkılap Dil Enstitüsü’nde bir yıl İngilizce Hazırlık okudu.(Sanat Tarihi YL) 2005- İstanbul Üniversitesi Türk Dili ve Edebiyatı ABD. Yüksek Lisansını tamamladı. Ocak 2017 “1980 Sonrası Türk Romanında Üstkurmaca” başlıklı teziyle İstanbul Üniversitesi Türk Dili ve Edebiyatı Doktora programından mezun oldu.Marmara Üniversitesi Türkiyat Araştırmaları Enstitüsünde Türk Sanatında doktora çalışmalarına devam etmektedir. 1998 yılından itibaren Varlık, Virgül, E, Hürriyet Gösteri, Sanat Antika Koleksiyon ve rh+ artmagazine gibi dergilerde sanat ve edebiyat üzerine makale ve röportajları yayımlanan Şafak Güneş (Gökduman), Kasım 2013’ten beri KolajART’ın Yayın Yönetmenliğine devam etmektedir. Abdülhak Şinasi Hisar’ın İstanbul’u adlı incelemesi İBB. Kültür A. Ş. tarafından yayımlanmıştır.

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