Eric Stotik, untitled, 2010, acrylic on wood panel, 13 1/2 x 10 1/2".

Eric Stotik, untitled, 2010, acrylic on wood panel, 13 1/2 x 10 1/2".

Eric Stotik

Laura Russo Gallery

Eric Stotik, untitled, 2010, acrylic on wood panel, 13 1/2 x 10 1/2".

Knowing that Portland, Oregon–based artist Eric Stotik grew up the son of Lutheran missionaries in Papua New Guinea, might go some way in explaining the painter’s recurring interest in images of human subjugation, imperialist torture, and exotic blood ritual. On the other hand, it explains not at all many other facets of the artist’s work, such as his bygone painting style, or his use of discarded paper and wood as material ground. While Stotik’s images are clearly objects of great personal obsession—maybe even born of his colonial youth in the land of headhunters—they also stubbornly defy biographical, or any, categorization.

For more than twenty years now Stotik has been describing his dark vision shard by shard, fleshing out a world in which horse-headed demons, tribalistic babies, inscrutable machines, ominous storm clouds, and charred architecture (to inventory but one recent image) come together like the proverbial umbrella and sewing machine. Whether across large canvases, in miniature, on album covers, or through one continuous, cylindrical, panoramic tableau, Stotik’s realm has become recognizable as a place where war is constant, religious belief is bizarre and improvised, and sunlight, when it arrives, is generally filtered through clouds of noxious smoke.

Stotik’s most recent outing at Laura Russo Gallery included his normal retinue of cursed subjects: marred faces; headless men standing against toxic skies; strange, industrial interiors inhabited by veiled workers; bones on a war field. In one untitled painting (all works 2010), for instance, a billowing red cloud sprouts gray, zombielike arms and legs, like a scene from some Hindu old testament. In another, a man wearing a sarong, with a decomposing monkey skull for a head, sits on a farmhouse whose multipoint perspective could practically have been lifted from the quattrocento. In yet another piece, a blind Victorian woman poses before a painting of a blue-skinned, skull-studded Kali, gesturing toward what appears to be a shadow of Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel. In all of the works, with their unexpected, uncompromising combinations and painstaking details, Stotik achieves an ambience of genuine mystery.

At times his painting calls to mind that of José Clemente Orozco, the least utopian of the great Mexican muralists, whose scenes of imperialist conquest and class warfare, like Stotik’s images, lack any inkling of heroism or innocence. At others, that of Max Ernst, whose war-torn collage engages the history of art and contemporary atrocity to forge a mythopoetic space. Among Stotik’s contemporaries, one might think of Pieter Schoolwerth, for the smart, darkling psychedelia and the warped urban tribalism of his older work.

Most of all, though, the presiding spirit here is Hieronymous Bosch. Not only does Stotik’s style carry distinct echoes of the Northern Renaissance, but his iconography is indebted to the Netherlandish master’s demonic menagerie (albeit without Bosch’s mania). At times the specter of Odd Nerdrum draws close, too—that nostalgic, merely virtuosic tapping of antique style—but in the end always retreats: With Stotik, the influences never seem academic. What we have here seems to be a genuine neo-nominalist at work, an artist who truly believes that God is in the details and so produces images of deeply unfashionable moral and even religious power. In the hair-thin lines, the tiny light on the distant bankheads of clouds, the ripped fingernails on a gray-skinned corpse, the artist’s humble devotion to the discipline of imagemaking becomes luminously clear. These images are, improbably, images of piety, images born of a nearly medieval mystical sensibility, whose audience is possibly not only not the art world as it currently exists, but not even humans at all.

Jon Raymond