Los Angeles

Michaela Eichwald, Duns Scotus, 2015, acrylic, oil, wax, and lacquer on pleather, 53 1/2 × 106 1/4".

Michaela Eichwald, Duns Scotus, 2015, acrylic, oil, wax, and lacquer on pleather, 53 1/2 × 106 1/4".

Michaela Eichwald

Overduin & Co.

Michaela Eichwald, Duns Scotus, 2015, acrylic, oil, wax, and lacquer on pleather, 53 1/2 × 106 1/4".

Michaela Eichwald’s first solo show in Los Angeles bore a gnomic title—“quo vadis gnothi sauton and_ cui bono_”—that was the result of three phrases in Greek and Latin jammed together: “Where are you going?,” “Know thyself,” and “To whose benefit?” The last phrase is perhaps most familiar, its forensic application so ubiquitous on crime shows, but one might still query its present usage with regard to nine large-scale paintings. While each work’s composition appears to be the product of specific and maybe unrepeatable material alchemies (one was laid outside to dry just as the weather turned, resulting in raindrop-size spots in the varnish), the canvases collectively revealed the guiding presence of their maker. Eichwald was catholic in her selected media of acrylic, oil, tempera, and lacquer, as well as graphite and wax in some instances; the overlays born of their admixtures are glossy in certain parts, runny in others, and gelatinous in others still. Some passages look as though the paint might exfoliate of its own accord—bubble off like molten skin. Most of the works were made on pleather, whose minute ruts formed ready-made patterns within the grounds. Because Eichwald works with her supports tacked to the wall or laid on the floor before stretching them, the final surfaces appeared tense, pulled across their armatures so tightly that in many works the image curves around to the sides.

These pieces move between recognizable forms and oozing substances. Indeed, many paintings sport amorphous blobs, hangovers from an erstwhile biomorphic modernism. If protozoa usually connote beginnings, in Eichwald’s usage, they appear instead as remnants of a past event—not anticipatory but retrospective. Installed in the gallery’s first room, Restzeit (The Rest of the Time You Have Left; all works 2015) implied temporality most explicitly, in its imperfectly traced outlines of brown nubbles suggestive of excrement and frothy pink vestiges of material experiments at the center of a field of tufted cushions on a beige support. In the adjacent room, Duns Scotus, Steinzeit (Stone Age), and Die Künstlergruppe Mülheimer Freiheit auf dem Weg zu Bio’s Bahnhof (The Artistic Group Mülheimer Freiheit on the way to Bio’s Bahnhof) extended this theme of trashed beginnings. These works evoke vignettes inside caves: walls of graffiti with a fetus, phallic mushrooms, lumpen portrait busts veiled by floating bands of glitter and viscera. It was hard not to see a resemblance to Sigmar Polke’s Steinzeit paintings in particular. And the work titled after the artistic group is even more specific, nodding to the boisterous Mülheimer Freiheit, aka the Cologne Neue Wilde (Young Wild Ones).

Several of Eichwald’s canvases further departed from representational imagery to present less securely identifiable yet more powerfully totemic aspects. Hung alone in the office but visible from the entrance and first gallery, Zweiteiliger Halbprophet, der nicht bereit ist seine Erwartungen zu korrigieren (Two-Part Semi-Prophet, Who Is Not Willing to Reconsider His Expectations) assumed the status of a wry watchman overseeing the space, what with its two upright bodies—one with numerous protrusions bisected with horizontal score lines and the other a cartoony elephant with an exaggerated trunk—set atop pockmarked faux ostrich skin. Yet it was the namesake gnothi sauton that most searchingly posed the question of the sincerity of the whole grouping and that of the moniker under which they were assembled. This oversize nebulous splotch appeared as a sort of blowup of shapes from the surrounding pieces: Its decontextualized scab-like burgundy contour had the quality of a Rorschach blot, despite the painting’s willful asymmetry. This is what is left of self-expression, making Eichwald either the culprit or the beneficiary, or both.

Suzanne Hudson