On January 30th new work by Purdy Eaton opens at Nancy Hoffman Gallery, continuing through March 14. Entitled Eat and Live. Eat and Die.; Eaton’s upcoming exhibition is a nod to Bruce Nauman’s One Hundred Live and Die. Eat and Live, Eat and Die; the essence of all life: plants, animals, humans, kings, queens, and cockroaches are all bound to this ethos. This, like Nauman’s other phrases, Feel and Live, Feel and Die, is simultaneously fatalistic and equalizing. The chaos of politics, climate volatility, and random violence is rightfully fear inducing and overwhelming, yet there is something hopeful and meditative about the reality you eat you live, you eat you die. There will always be a tomorrow no matter how dystopic.
Eaton’s darkly humorous oil paintings riff on this dichotomy. As climate change and divisive politics tear at our foundations, we are placated by funny cat videos and TikTok memes. Play and Live, Play and Die. We can see the big picture, but sometimes it is just too depressing and overwhelming, and we want to enjoy that gorgeous sunset even if it is made of toxins.
In a series about state birds, Eaton examines the warped reality that many of the state birds are no longer able to inhabit the states they were legislated to represent. The California quail, California’s state bird for nearly a century, is leaving the state as their range is becoming too warm for them to stay. In Eaton’s depiction, the quail appear in front of a lovely sunset, but on further inspection, they might actually be escaping the latest wildfire. In another painting, Paul Bunyan rises in the foreground, while an American loon flies in another direction. The juxtaposition of this iconic strongman roadside attraction—symbolic of the American celebration of “man taming the wilderness”—-with a bird that can no longer live in Minnesota, hints that it might be time to reexamine our origin stories. In another painting from the series, a Northern Flicker with bright yellow plumage rises from a background of rockets in Huntsville, Alabama. As the location of early launches, these relics of NASA’s glory years are now tourist attractions. Space is no longer the purview of science and human progress—it has become the escape hatch, the place to go when we need a Plan B.
Eaton also spins Nauman’s duality to remind us that despite the apocalyptic visions we read about daily, it is not all bad for all creatures. Fireflies, for instance, are flourishing. The Canada Goose, once on the verge of extinction, has become so common as to be a nuisance. With these color-rich and storied paintings, Eaton is asking us to realize that this is our moment to be alive, before we all die, and that the flowers are indeed quite beautiful.
The artist’s work has been shown at Arlington Center for the Arts, Massachusetts; Stamford Art Association, Connecticut; Art Museum of Greater Lafayette, Indiana; Institute for Sustainable Cities, City University of New York, Governors Island; Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill, New York, as well as many invitational exhibitions in New York. She received an Artist’s Grant, Vermont Studio Center in Johnson and Green People’s Choice Award, City University of New York; her work is included in the collection of 21C Museum, Louisville, Kentucky, and the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette, Lafayette, Indiana. She received an M.F.A. from Hunter College, City University of New York; an M.P.H. from Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut and a B.S. from Indiana University, Bloomington. Her studies include an Overseas Study Program, University of Kent Canterbury, Kent, United Kingdom. Purdy Eaton was born in Lafayette, Indiana. She lives and works in New York City.