Arts & Entertainment: Embrace the Ambiguity

Eggleston’s artwork a conversation of its own

This piece was published in the March 3, 2011, Bravo section of the Kearney Hub. Below is the full original version before it was edited for space. A teaser can be found at the Kearney Hub’s website.

Even to those who know him well, Jeremy Eggleston is quiet and reserved, the type of person who thinks first before speaking and who doesn’t fall habit to “ums” and “ahs.” His artwork, however, is in direct contrast to his personal demeanor. It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s bound to demand the attention of every person in the room.

According to Eggleston, a senior studio arts major with an emphasis in painting and printmaking, that’s exactly the point.

“The process, ultimately, that I go through is taking part in conversations I’ve never had with people I’ve never met,” Eggleston explained. “In social situations, I might forget something, I might leave things unsaid, whatever they may be. It could be agreeing or disagreeing, positing a different point of view or giving recognition, you know, it could be anything. And then these things just carry on inside me, and I save them for my projects.”

Eggleston’s most recent project to gain recognition is his painting titled “Complexity Theory,” currently housed at the Walker Art Gallery in the Fine Arts Building on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. As part of the annual juried student exhibition, it not only won top honors as best of show – it takes up its own wall, too.

“I went as big as I could,” Eggleston said, “I didn’t want to hold back at all.”

Amy Markham, a junior graphic design major from Grand Island, visits the annual juried student exhibition at Walker Art Gallery at the University of Nebraska at Kearney between classes and inspects Jeremy Eggleston’s painting “Complexity Theory.”

Amy Markham, a junior graphic design major from Grand Island, visits the annual juried student exhibition at Walker Art Gallery at the University of Nebraska at Kearney between classes and inspects Jeremy Eggleston’s painting “Complexity Theory.”

With layer upon layer of 24 colors and five different types of paint over a wood surface larger than a table top, the passion involved with a work like this is apparent, but the detail is a surprise. Standing back, the surface appears to be small waves of color crashing into one another, simulating a restrained chaos. But upon closer inspection, the colors reveal themselves to be carefully placed and, as Eggleston describes it, “layered and braided together.”

To achieve this effect, Eggleston had to carefully plan his approach, first by separating his paint according to type, then according to color. For all the different types of paint to combine, he had to layer them in a very specific order.

“You can’t expect oil and acrylic and tempera, for example, to all work together,” Eggleston said. “Sometimes they’ll work against each other. I had to keep that in mind the whole way through.”

But along with careful layering and braiding to force the paints to bind to one another, Eggleston also allows natural forces to pull them apart. Cracks along the surface are intentional, he says, because they allow the complimentary layers underneath to shine through. This fracturing and dividing will be encouraged in the future, as Eggleston plans to allow his piece to experience both the cold of winter and the heat of summer. After two years of exposure to the extremes, the painting will be brought back into the studio and coated with resin to preserve its natural wear and tear.

This is why, as it stands now in the safety of a gallery, Eggleston does not consider it a finished piece. Instead, it continues to serve as its own on-going conversation.

“When I was making it, it flowed perfectly. It only took about six hours to create, and most of that was planning,” he said. “Of course, I can always plan ahead, but I have no idea how it will turn out. It won’t always convey a message, it could be a total surprise, but I embrace that ambiguity.

“There are all kinds of people out there, so I don’t want to limit myself to a particular subject matter. I don’t want a target market or a specific audience quite yet because I want to experiment. You’ll see that when you look at my whole body of work. It’s all about experimenting, about taking different approaches.”

With Eggleston essentially putting his side of the conversation into his work, he encourages his audience to participate, even going so far as breaking what many consider a universal rule of art – don’t touch it.

“I want people to want to touch it,” he insists. “They should be able to fulfill that desire, and in the spirit of the work, I encourage it.”

For Eggleston, a member of the minority of his generation more likely to be making something by hand than updating his Facebook, this open line of communication with his audience is what lies behind his drive to create.

“It’s hard to get fully engaged with someone, especially when we all have so many things to do every day and we’re all so busy. I personally don’t like small talk, but I don’t use that to justify not connecting with people, because I do. I just connect differently.”

Eggleston’s future as an artist rests on finishing his degree program at UNK, from which he plans to graduate in the fall. After that, he says he’ll be looking at grad schools, where he hopes to find a program that speaks to him and a group of potential collaborators with a similar vision.