Grotesque arabesque: Eichorst fancies the fantastic

After watching Aaron Eichorst’s art evolve over several years, a few things have become clear. He finds the natural world compelling, from animals to flowers to bugs. He loves color. He doesn’t shy away from the erotic. And there is nothing minimal about his approach. In fact, if Eichorst were to get tattoos on his biceps, “drama” and “excess” would be good choices.

So, it’s not surprising that when he encountered Italian “grotesques,” ornate frescoes painted in grotto-like small rooms (hence the name), Eichorst decided to take the form and run with it. Using aspects of past
projects— photos fused with drawing and painting, images of statues, portraits of friends, human-flower hybrids, etc.— Eichorst began blending them in innovative ways for this new endeavor. The playful results are now on view in
the exhibit, “Awakening Grotesques,” at the McGuffey Art Center.

Staying true to the original source, Eichorst’s elaborate images are symmetrical in composition. Jewel-toned vines and stylized foliage twist and scroll around a central architectural element, while statuary and fanciful creatures occupy imaginary compass points. Often the classical architecture—perhaps a proscenium or a domed temple—features a columned doorway or pulled-back curtains that partially reveal a realistic contemporary face.
The impression Eichorst conjures is the real world exists outside of this whimsical realm; people can only glimpse it— and the viewer, who Eichorst cleverly positions on the fanciful side.

Eichorst uses an array of techniques to realize his visions, including pastel, tempera, and acrylic painting, photographic collage, and digital manipulation. In “The Shrine,” a delicately hand-painted eye of a child
looks through a blue and lavender proscenium arch. Above, a photo of a starfish appears to embrace a painted green orb. Below, two creatures, collaged from bison bodies, human torsos, and antelope heads, face each other, with right arms outstretched toward a golden arabesque. On either side of the proscenium, mirrored photos of sinuous striped lizards crawl downward as their feet seamlessly transform into delicate fronds and curlicues.

Eichorst takes the adjective “decorative,” often considered a putdown in the art world, and turns it on its head, making intentionally decorative compositions that are simultaneously fantastical and tongue-in-cheek. The only head-scratching element is his decision to surround each piece with a rough painted border (perhaps meant to mimic a fresco?). Fortunately, it doesn’t detract from overall impact.

Eichorst’s penchant for colorful excess and theatricality has finally found a delightfully grotesque outlet.

Aaron Eichorst’s exhibition, “Awakening Grotesques,” is on view through February 26 at the McGuffey Art Center, 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.


Read more on: Aaron Eichorstartfrescoe