Arts » Visual Art

Dark flight of the soul

Scott Eagle mines archetypal imagery for visual jewels

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"The Bride of Falling Man" by Scott Eagle, acrylic on paper mounted to panel - PHOTO COURTESY OF TYNDALL GALLERIES

Though newly tenured ECU professor Scott Eagle has been represented by Tyndall Galleries for several years, this summer's exhibit is his first solo show at the Chapel Hill space. Eagle's new paintings, elaborately crafted mixed media works from the Falling Man series, are sourced in dreams remembered from childhood, the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, the Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, Dover clip-art books, and appropriations from Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Italian Renaissance painter Giotto di Bondone.

In his artist statement, Eagle says the "falling man" icon encapsulates "the contemporary state of constantly being inundated with information and stimulation that, in the bigger picture, really has little meaning." Created from drawings on paper that have been purposefully subjected to sanding, soaking, erasure and other eroding treatments, Eagle allows process to influence the emergence of an image. He then affixes the paper onto a board backing and refines the image to a precise finish. These recent works also incorporate found objects, such as framing cut from old-fashioned wooden fold-out rulers. Although our culture "thrives on the scientific, the quantifiable, the profitable," Eagle says, it is nonetheless unable to quantify the transcendent.

Now entering mid-life and mid-career, Eagle still employs his penchant for art-historical reference. But overall, this series is more personal and even more abstract than his previous work, which was often more fully rooted in specific art historical compositional structures. Eagle continues to mine art history, but he sweeps us up in the maelstrom of his trademark tornadoes, whirlwinds and waterspouts, where such images are subtly embedded, rather than dominant. He leads us down a spiral path.

"The Second Dream of Falling Man" by Scott Eagle, acrylic on paper mounted to panel - PHOTO COURTESY OF TYNDALL GALLERIES

We can recognize the search for soul growth in the dense layering of visual strata--fertile ground for an archeology of archetypes--as Eagle guides us through layers of superimposed and obscured collaged and juxtaposed imageries. In one part of the gallery, 15 small paintings are arranged in grid formation. They can be usefully "read" in rows as the progressive development of their iconographies, which partake of all manner of mystical symbol--from the cosmic egg to the ouroborous (the serpent devouring its own tail, symbol of the never-ending cycle of beginnings and endings) to the alchemical furnace. In one of these, "The Man and the Moon," a moon face in the sky casts its light upon a fleeing man, who is really the falling man put upright. The moon represents the subconscious, and it is perhaps our instinct to flee from the necessary lessons that can be found there.

In "Eclipse," a bird holds a branch attached to a globe containing the falling man, relating to the principle of "as above, so below." In order for the soul to grow, one must delve into the depths of one's psyche as well as aspire to the heights of worldly experience.

Among the larger scale works, "Fly" renders a photorealistic fly landing atop an attenuated, nearly erased falling man figure in a field of images that includes a Day of the Dead grim reaper, cartoonish faces and hands that appear to be waving for help. As humans, we can be as helpless and seemingly inconsequential as a fly, yet we have always aspired to fly, literally and figuratively. A grid of metal frames the panel, and affixed to the grid is a ruler--man's device for quantifying measurement--and a green segment of a Tinkertoy, standing in for the play of children.

"The Only Way to Heaven" by Scott Eagle, acrylic on paper mounted to panel - PHOTO COURTESY OF TYNDALL GALLERIES

"The Only Way to Heaven" presents a disturbing tableaux on its surface: A bandaged man holding a snake is held by a minotaur between opposing shores of a river, while a tornado travels through the central space. The snake's double-entwined image is the same one found doubled on the caduceus, the symbol of the medical profession, which represented health to the ancients because it could miraculously regenerate its own skin. The man in this painting, who seems to hover between the life and death suggested by the two shores, has a third eye--a symbol of spiritual seeing. Held by the minotaur (recall his association with Daedalus, father of Icarus--the men who dared to fly), he is cradled by the embrace of his animal nature, and the natural world represented by the vines that entwine around him. Soul growth is a death and rebirth, and it is painful.

Eagle's works are beautifully rendered in compelling jewel tones that evoke a mystical aura fitting for these deep spirit journeys. It is a bit atypical for a commercial venue to present such a consistently high-caliber body of work that so challenges the viewer to unlock its mysteries. This show might just as easily have found a home in a museum setting. Tyndall's commitment to Eagle's evolving career path is exemplary.

Scott Eagle's new works are on display through Aug. 19 at Tyndall Galleries in University Mall, 201 S. Estes Drive, Chapel Hill. Tyndall Galleries is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 942-2290 or visit www.tyndallgalleries.com.

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