Leviathan, presents a group of eight new, photorealist paintings, four years in the making. Begun in 2014 as a series of works originally created in response to Philip Roth’s, Portnoy’s Complaint, Helvie employed thickly layered oil paint, sprayed enamel and printed fleece fabric, pressed directly into the wet surface of the paintings. The resulting “Pipe Smokers,” once finished, were then repainted with each gestural mark and collaged surface element rendered in a single layer of black and white oil on canvas. The resulting work sits in a limbo, hovering somewhere between the realm of “original” paintings and the tradition of photographic reproduction.
As a group, the paintings in Leviathan present an uneasy crew of malformed figures. Each seem to tap into some absurd aspect of overweening male ego, however, their grotesque nature is held at a distance. Each Pipe Smoker is caged behind and filtered by their own trompe l’oeil surface. A diseased cyclops puffs away while giving an enthusiastic “two-thumbs-up.” An erect stalagmite smokes a distinctly surrealist pipe seemingly pulled directly from Rene Magritte’s iconic, The Treachery of Images. In a work titled, Painting for the Cover of Portnoy’s Complaint, an unhappy cave creature suffers the inconvenience of having a large, anthropomorphic phallus growing from its foot. The nature of the relationship appears to be ambiguous, either parasitic, symbiotic, or both as the erection blows smoke directly into the ear of the stone figure who, in turn, stares helplessly at the viewer. In another work titled, Pipe Smoker (Terminator), a seemingly unfinished, horned figure, devoid of any other facial features, glares with glowing eyes from a swath of black paint. Thick gestural strokes are carefully replicated, melding seamlessly with the eyes, each hand-painted to look exactly like a single, quick burst of white spay paint. The effect is unsettling even as these creatures have been neutered. Helvie never lets us forget that we are encountering facsimiles, paintings of paintings, ghosts of past work.
Eric Helvie was born in 1984 in Portland, Oregon. His work deals directly with the act of seeing, obsessive looking, and optical ambiguity. Pulling from art history, television and film, his paintings act as props and icons: objects that glean meaning from their context and point to a larger system of understanding. His work is held in numerous private collections.