1 June–20 July 2007, Parasol Unit, London
Two Feet in One Shoe has the ring of a modern proverb, one that suggests chaos-inducing impotence or awkward stupidity. It is also the stuff of theatrical clowning and staged silliness, and a thoroughly fitting title for the first UK solo exhibition of Armenian artist Armen Eloyan, who presents absurd, richly textured paintings that feature familiar characters from the canons of art history, folklore, Marlboro and Disney; some of the universal icons of our mythology. After a pompous, burlesque Master of Ceremonies, resplendent in top hat and doublet opens the show, ‘Disaster’, 2006, awaits; a dark, multi-canvas landscape depicts a sky consumed by doom clouds, a white bunny slain by an arrow through the heart lies in the middle ground and a foreground littered with beer cans, fag butts and other Dionysian detritus. The scene is made all the more sinister by the presence of a dark, grinning nihilistic rodent, suspiciously similar to a mouse called Mickey skulking away from the crime scene. The multiple canvas construction reinforcing a disjointed narrative, ‘Disaster’ is anarchic, consuming and perverse. It’s also very funny and a perfect opener.
The stories continue apace among the paintings in Parasol Unit’s lower gallery. There are caricature portraits of decorated imperial monarchs, and a wide-angled depiction of aportly reclining countryman curiously lying on a carpet of old cigarettes. Intrigue abounds in ‘Environmental Stress’, 2006, in which a seemingly unperturbed white bunny with a collar and chain around its neck is presented on stage for our amusement. ‘Untitled’, 2006, features a rotund lumberjack with huge comic shoes, standing beside his orange van which looks on, as any self-respecting cartoon vehicle does, with its headlamp-eyes. This is a wonderful example of Eloyan’s artistic hybrid, with oddball Viz-like characters in a style that recalls the folk art-influence on the Russian avant-garde. This one is particularly reminiscent of Mikhail Larionov’s ‘Soldier in a Wood’, 1911. Yet just when you think you have a handle on Eloyan’s recurrent motifs, sexual deviance joins the mix in ‘Bend Over’, 2006, and a darkly chaotic attic room emerges from the inch-thick, splodgy oil in which a dominatrix holding her toys stands over bare-buttocked customer. This scene is replayed upstairs somewhat more disturbingly with a Hansel and Gretel-type pair.
The works in the upper gallery are more enigmatic, often with a fairytale aura about them. One particularly enchanting canvas could be an illustration for the Brothers Grimm or an allegorical fragment. It depicts two bodiless swans, their heads hovering over a reflective pool, cast iron cuff around their necks that are attached to chains that hang from somewhere off-stage. It is a haunting and beguiling image—far less amusing than the plight of their bunny brethren downstairs. The patent theatricality of many of the works upstairs cements the allusion to pantomime and returns us to the elusive proverbial overtones of Two Feet in One Shoe.
What is irresistible about Eloyan’s work is his dexterity with paint. In some the features of the protagonist are scratched, carved or gouged out of paint several centimetres thick. In others he splatters the canvas, lets globules dribble, sweeps across the sky or piles up boggy landscapes, using the bristles of his brush to whip up the pathetic fallacy. This exhibition proffers painting and picturing of the most sinisterly, seductive order.
Kate Cowcher is a curator based in London