By Julie Chu Cheong
Wide Eyed comprises the curiously personal work of artists Nicole Dyer and Dave Eassa as they divulge their stories of love and loss, of inner turmoil and inevitable anxiety – the archetypal millennial autobiography. Upon first glance, the brightly colored and ornate works perpetuate a sense of blithe optimism, but the façade is quickly dissolved and the almost-laughable tragedy of twenty-something year-olds becomes more apparent.
Dave Eassa’s work focuses on a consuming fear amongst many young individuals – the fear of falling into a trap of middle-aged monotony. Eassa’s Deck of Cards series, a kaleidoscopic musing on daily habituation, quickly closes in on you as you enter the gallery’s annex space. There are three walls, each adorned with a single 48 by 36 inch oil painting, the large canvasses each stressing a different aspect of tedium. Doctor’s Orders: An Apple A Day plays on the age-old adage, with warm colors outfitting a configuration of apples, wine glasses, and faces. The simple shapes are hastily drawn in the form of playing cards, the unstructured lines silhouette solid swaths of color that appear to be thickly plastered on by means of a palette knife, working in tandem to create a sense of balance. Thick goopy lines ooze off the canvas, unambiguously demarcating already drawn figures. The repetition within these pieces creates a stylistic pattern, of waking up in the morning and following a routine and then waking up the next morning and doing it all over again…and again. The repetition of symbols emulates the routine of events that plagues day-to-day life, the daily minutiae and natural tendency of human behavior to follow order that gives way to bleakness. The flat heads, and subsequent emotions devoid of any complexity that adorn these faces, elicit an eerie feeling of emptiness. The smiles sometimes turn up at the corners, while some turn down or merely flicker at the edges, all the while sporting the same vacant eyes.
This theme reappears in his next painting, Doctor’s Orders: Live A Lil. This one, however, depicts smiling faces with dead eyes represented by x’s and a background of beer cans reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s grids of soup cans. This piece comments on the toxicity that society happily subjects itself to: a self-medication that manifests itself in poisonous behaviors. 24 Hour Connection presents even more of a cynical view with unwavering glaring faces and a set of clock hands alluding to a life slowly ticking away behind a screen. The Apple computers and cellphones that decorate this piece suggest the undeniable conformity and inability to disconnect that saturates many professionals and millennials. There is an undeniable 24/7 connectivity that dictates daily action and reaction. The hackneyed clichés that title these works further illustrate the staleness that permeates everyday life. Eassa seeks to explore human nature, and furthermore, why people do what they do.
These feelings contrast with larger-than-life cat sculptures that inhabit the same world. These cats are patchily painted and once again feature goopy strings of paint. One cat displays a sense of anthropomorphism, sitting upright with paws that caress a (statue of a) flowerpot. Another looms atop a large canvas, staring into a crude portrait of itself. These cats represent everything that a person stuck in conformity craves. The gluttony and selfishness, the lack of responsibility of a house cat become highly desirable to someone stuck in a bubble of obligation and responsibility. The self-absorbed cat has no commitments other than to stare back at the image of itself, admiring its splendor. The cat eating flowers represents a dismissal of the status quo. The act of eating these flowers is more than mere rebellion, but a rejection of expectations and societal norms. Are its actions wrong, or is it viewed as negative simply because the act is not what is expected of it? Its begs the question of who or what constructs these ideas of good and bad behavior. These concepts are often conventionalized without question, a routine acceptance of what society is told. But with this rejection, these cats instead adopt a lifestyle of self-love and freedom where independence and inimitability have space to breathe and flourish.
It is fitting that the dullness of life is portrayed through two-dimensional paintings that hang flat upon walls, whereas the idealized cats inhabit their space in a much more profound way. They interrupt passers-by unapologetically, taking up space right in the middle of the gallery, forcing the viewer to figuratively acknowledge their shamelessness.
Nicole Dyer, described in the exhibition press release as a “true Millennial Sad-Girl,” focuses less on the anxiety of societal pressure and more on anxieties of relationships and heartbreak. A series of small paintings depict loose contour lines in the shape of lovers in bed, a blunt depiction of sexuality. In one, the figures intertwine in sweet caress, and heads lean gently into one another; in others crude outlines of two individuals engage in various sexual positions. A fascination with patterns and vibrant colors permeate her works. Skin tones are tragically beautiful – distorted purples and reds, the hands holding onto one another and onto cell phones and green toilet bowls.
She explores the natural desire for intimacy, and the inevitable rejection that follows. A painting titled Sleeping Together is at first overwhelmed by clashing patterns and distorted sizing of the subjects, but it portrays a tender embrace of two individuals on a sofa. More than the sexual connotation of “sleeping together,” there is an innate desire simply to be held by another person, to simply fall asleep next to another body. The large hands emphasize this sense of security and comfort. Another work, Max’s Bed, depicts the brutal discomfort of the morning after. The empty bed with tousled sheets and half smoked cigarettes constructs a level of intimacy in a human space. There is no need for naked bodies; the stark bareness of the bed is enough to convey the feelings of loss and modern tragedy. Another painting of incoming text messages reading “its nothing against you…I just want 2 b friends” is something so simple and almost comical, yet many people can relate to the feelings that arise from similar sentiments. In another, a purple body leans over a toilet, sick after bad decisions the night before.
Dyer and Eassas’ works complement each other through stereotypical crises of their respective genders. In that sense the exhibition suggests a cliché depiction of the female millennial’s life revolving around boys, breakups and booze, the male millennial more focused on individuality and fear of falling into the corporate trap. Their deepest insecurities and fears reverberate off of one another to depict life as young adults. Both artists struggle with the imprisonment of self through societal constructs, and the subsequent feelings of being trapped in their own self-imposed versions of these contructs.
Julie Chu Cheong is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.