Eric Orr

Anders Tornberg Gallery

Turning my back to the imposing 12th-century cathedral at Lund, the first thing I caught sight of as I entered this exhibition was a “black hole,” a small rectangular aperture in a white wall that opened onto a space- and time-devouring void. Its blackness, surfaceless though velvety, at once oceanic and absolute, effaced the strong sense of historical continuity that I had had only a minute earlier. Disoriented, I caught sight of a flat rectangular screen floating in the void. Seemingly projected upon it was the animated image of a flaming fountain: along a golden upright I-beam, washed over by water, a vertical strip of fire burned. Infinitely enticing and at the same time lethal, it was an image fraught with the painful pathos of the Sublime.

At this point the atmosphere was abruptly dispelled by one of the visitors, whom I had seen enter the show just before me, suddenly walking straight into what I had taken to be a film sequence. Not a little curious, I found my way through the galleries into a rear courtyard; there 1 found Eric Orr’s Prime Matter, 1985, a burning, flowing sculpture, 7’ 2" high, warm, and hissing in full physical presence. What I had thought to be a representation was in fact a presentation, seen through the black void of Orr’s Double Vision, 1985. As one work became two, fiction turned out to be reality.

This perfectly executed installation was emblematic of the generous impurity the unwillingness to cultivate a single artistic strategy, that seems to permeate Orr’s entire body of work. At once looking for presence in the heart of absence and absence in the heart of presence, he has drifted away from all conventional genres. In recent years his pursuit of impurity has edged toward a clear-cut polyphony, represented in this exhibition by an installation of wall pieces. There was a group of basically sculptural reliefs of closed windows in lead and gold leaf, some of their edges thinly painted with the artist’s own blood (works constituting a direct continuation of Orr’s 1976 Lead Window). These were complemented by a suite of 13 paintings on canvas mounted on board set within frames of lead-sheathed wood and gold leaf. These latter nonironic iconsare definitely three-dimensional objects, yet they are also pictures (in fact, far more so than in the Greenbergian sense of a stretched-up or tacked-up canvas); for this reason, they might at first sight seem a little problematic with their features of classical Modernism. Their soft, smoky, and carefully graded brushwork has an odd taste of the School of Paris, while their format recalls Barnett Newman’s “zip” paintings. To present such works without any irony in 1985, as Orr has, may appear naive; however, I am convinced that Orr’s way to painting has been a personal journey, prompted more by inner necessity than by art-historical consideration, a journey during which the conceptual Double Vision pieces, with their qualities of the picturesque and the Sublime, serve as an important bridge. Painting seems to have offered Orr yet another important expressive possibility in addition to his already rich vocabulary of forms, which range from golden rooms to matchbooks.

It is just possible that the link between Newman and Orr that appears somewhat surprisingly in these recent paintings and in Prime Matter is a reflection of a shared fate. With infinity and death as his perpetual fellow travelers, Orr is incessantly forced to confront the unknowable terrain of the Sublime.

Lars Nittve