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THE Magazine - Water/Nymph


By Diane Armitage

THE Magazine  /  September 2013

Reflecting on these musings that produce unexpected images allows one to understand that the imagination needs a constant dialectic. For a thoroughly dualized imagination, concepts are not centers of images which come together because of their resemblance to each other; concepts are the points where images intersect at incisive and decisive right angles.

—Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter

Eric Tillinghast’s recent body of work, Water/Nymph, is both curious and compelling. For one thing, it compelled me to track down the meaning of the names he gives his cohort of bathing beauties—a group of sixties-era women featured on some of the appropriated postcards that the artist used in this show. The women had names like Clytie, Vila, Iasis, and Nixe, which were also the titles of individual pieces. In the past, Tillinghast has worked not only with the theme of water, as he does here in the forty altered postcards that constitute most of this exhibition, but also with its actual substance in complex and stunning installations such as Rain Machine, seen at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe a few years ago. However, Water/Nymph emphasizes a strong sense of conceptual detachment from the actual experience of water and its often forceful properties. With the exception of one small installation of black cast-iron bowls filled with water and positioned on the floor—and here the water looks like ink—this show of small-to-very-small works on paper enlisted a different part of our perceptual brain.

Every postcard has been altered by a process of elimination as Tillinghast has applied acrylic paint so only a body of water is left in the image. What remains is either a natural body of water, like Havasu Falls, Horse Creek Falls, or Niagara, or the water is contained in that man-made entity known as a swimming pool. Most of the artist’s pictorial interventions have used white paint to isolate, for example, a svelte woman by or in a pool. Or he has applied a flat black that surrounds instances of a more dynamic pictorial nature, such as a plunging waterfall, as he has done in the piece Angel Falls, the largest image in the show and one of the most dramatic and abstract. It is Tillinghast’s odd focus on abstraction, both on a conceptual and a visual level, which proves the most interesting aspect of his project. But who are all the nymphs, and how do they relate to what appears as both a cliché in a postcard reality and something else deeper, more mysterious, and even mythical?

Delving not only into Greek mythology, Tillinghast has referenced Roman, German, Slavic, Chilean, and even Pre-Columbian myths to contextualize his water sprites and nymphs. Mythology was, of course, our first organized form of natural history, and it served to explain to a pre-empirical age the origin of water-based phenomena: like where springs came from, or lakes and ponds, or what lived in the cascading foam of waterfalls, or presided over sites such as Delphi in Greece with its oracular Pythian Sibyl. For something as bland and innocuous as 1960s kidney-shaped swimming pools with women perched on the edge, Tillinghast has overlaid tiny slivers of ancient knowledge that associate the mutability, poetry, and mystery of water with the female psyche.

Sea nymphs, the goddesses and water sprites who resided in rivers and streams, and the female oracles who got their inspiration from the spirits within underground springs are the presiding deities in this exhibition. But however resonant their names might be—Thetis, Calliphaea, and Pagea—the postcard size of these supernatural beings renders them no bigger than insects. And here, too, is another level of association embedded within the artist’s own hydrologic cycle: The nymph state in the insect world is the stage where the immature insects resemble adults but are not quite there yet.

In another section from Gaston Bachelard’s book, he wrote, “Though forms and concepts harden rapidly, material imagination still remains an active power.” There is no elemental substance as suggestive and potent as water. In its movement and sound, in its restorative and destructive properties, in its colors, reflectability, and refractive nature, water and its fluid dynamics is not just a stage in the development of Tillinghast’s artistic practice; for him, it is also a psychic bond and a ravishing mirror with endless permutations. Even in these postcard images of seaside, pond, lagoon, or waterfall, the artist has altered their conceptual substrate and drawn their liquid essence to himself, isolating not only an inherent beauty, but also an openended suggestibility in the making and altering of images that revolve around a particular theme. In this work, the process of abstraction fits the representation like a glove. It’s important when viewing Water/Nymph not to be misled by Tillinghast’s relatively simple means for exploring a huge topic. Like a deck of fortunetelling cards, there is no beginning or end to the narratives born of myth and wild imaginings—each story becoming an intimate piece of a puzzle extracted from a cosmic set of universal reveries.

Art In America - Rain Machine



By Jan Ernst Adlmann

Art in America – September 2010

Initially conceived in 2008 as a web-only enterprise, LAUNCHPROJECTS has been augmented by a private exhibition space dedicated to emerging artists. Last spring the gallery presented work by California based Eric Tillinghast in a two-venue exhibition in conjunction with Santa Fe’s Center for Contemporary Arts. The art on view at LAUNCHPROJECTS occupied a clutch of small, elegant, daylight-filled rooms in a historic Victorian style bungalow. Titled “Water,” this segment featured several photography series, plus two steel sculptures topped by shallow basins of water. To create “Pools,” a group of 24 pigment prints done in 2009 (all 8 by 11 inches), Tillinghast started with photographs of swimming pools, some taken by him, most appropriated. Using Photoshop to delete the surrounding environments, he restricted the images to discrete containers in a variety of shapes and shades of blue, though they still call to mind David Hockney’s vibrant L.A. pool paintings. Also Hockney-esque, Tillinghast’s prints hung in a grid, presented like a collection of glittering tourmalines.

He used the same approach to create a pair of related series (neither on view in their entirety): “Puddles” and “The Deepest Lakes in the World.” The two sculptures, Water Series #71 and Water Series #72 (both 2010 and measuring approximately 25 by 20 by 12 inches), demonstrated an extreme reduction of watery presence to the point of deliquescence. The shallow puddles, quivering in the matte-black steel cubes, were topped off daily so that the liquid would maintain a tremulous surface-tension. Tillinghast’s “Water Series” sculptures recall Bernard Berenson’s musing, “I wonder whether art has a higher function than to make me feel, appreciate and enjoy natural objects for their art value?” At the CCA, Tillinghast devised a site-specific, monumental installation titled Rain Machine, wherein water was pumped from a 25 -by-81-foot containment pool (constructed of wood and black plastic pond liner) up to an irrigation grid suspended from the ceiling. The water then dripped constantly back down into the pool, which rested on the gallery floor and was roughly 6 inches deep. Most startling and evocative was how the artist manipulated the waters into a kind of Euclidian shower: the nearly invisible trickles of rain were made to fall in a precise grid of pinging, splashing points across the entire rectangular basin. Reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s 1971 installation Rain Machine (Daisy Waterfall), the concept here might well be seen as a present day rethinking of the impluvia (courtyard rainwater catchments) in the villas of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Crucial to the viewer’s apprehension of the work was the faintly audible plashing of the piece, which lulled us to the verge of reverie.

The Albuquerque Journal - Ripples For Relection


By Harmony Hammond

The Albuquerque Journal-North – May 14, 2010

The Center for Contemporary Art

The Muñoz Waxman Gallery space at the Center for Contemporary Arts is one of the best exhibition spaces in town. A large warehouse-type space, it demands strong art. Most work gets lost. Eric Tillinghast’s ambitious site-specific installation “Rain Machine” is the first exhibition, solo or group, to fully engage the space. It’s fabulous: Tillinghast at his best.

Working both two-and-three-dimensionally for over a decade, Tillinghast has focused on water as his primary subject and medium. “Rain Machine” consists of continuous fast drips from a black pipe grid on the ceiling, falling 25 feet into a shallow rectangular black tray filled with water, creating a grid of raindrops on the surface. Each raindrop ripples out to meet the next, generating small waves that overlap, occasionally breaking the surface tension with mall splashes and splatters.  I think of Eva Hesse’s delicate grid-based drawings concentric circles.

The tray of rain water fills the cavernous room but leaves space to walk around the perimeter. One can look up at the exposed ceiling apparatus and watch the induced drops fall, but the magic of the piece is below on the water’s surface – a “horizontal plane of rippling points” sparkling in the sun. It is mesmerizing and rejuvenating. I want to sit on a bench, listen to the rapid succession of drops hitting the water and meditate – let my thoughts go where they will, as we do when staring into bodies of water. A space of “reflection.”I think of the difference between water (real and symbolic life fluid) “once perceived as the stuff which radiates purity” and H_O, “the new stuff on whose purification human survival now depends.” (See Ivan Illich’s “H₂O and the Waters of Forgetfulness”).

I think of “Frustrum,” Gary Hill’s 2007 video installation at the Foundation Cartier of Contemporary Art in Paris, consisting of a low rectangular room-sized pool of black oil with a gold bar in the center and a giant virtual eagle caught in power lines flapping its wings projected floor to ceiling on the wall behind one end. The eagle is reflected on the surface of the oil. As the tips of its wings appear to dip into the oil, it sends ripples across the surface of the dark pool.  No, “Rain Machine” is not an overtly political piece like “Frustrum.” It is quietly political. Given the subject and poetics of water, politics and environmental issues hover in the background and lurk around the edges. Viewers bring it with them. Especially here in New Mexico where there is no water. We need this kind of (re)generative art as well as the overtly political.

Launch Projects

The CCA exhibition is in conjunction with “Water,” Tillinghast’s solo exhibition at LaunchProjects. The show presents paintings, photographs and sculptures based on the concept of normally fluid and formless water waking shape as puddles, pools, and lakes. The two object-based sculptures of water puddles on steel bases and the maquette for “Two Tanks,” a large metal and water sculpture currently included in “Art on the Edge” at the New Mexico Museum of Art, are interesting, but it’s the small works on paper that are most engaging. Tillinghast photographs or finds photographs of bodies of water on the Internet, then digitally removes the surrounding environment – leaving the shape of the body of water as it conformed to natural or man-made boundaries, or what he calls “containers.”

The three “Puddle” prints are based on photos Tillinghast took. Because of watercolor-like gradations of blue, the shapes derived from the puddles read both flat and spatial.  In “Pools,” Tillinghast reworked appropriated photographs of swimming pools. From a distance, the resulting condensed-down shapes – both familiar and strange – read solid turquoise. It’s only upon very close examination, that variation in water depth, reflection of light on the surface, and the side of or steps into the pool are discernable.

While the painted water shapes in the series “The Deepest Lakes in the World,” are created in the same subtractive manner, they have a different material presence because they are acrylic paintings rather than digital prints. Based on images of lakes as seen from above (captured by Google Earth), each lake is represented by a crisp-edged eccentric shape, filled in flat, solid and opaque with acrylic paint in different hues of blue and green. What looks like land masses, islands floating in a sea of white, are in actuality water with land taken away – a contemporary play on positive-negative space with political overtones. I recommend seeing both exhibitions.

Exhibition Catalogue - Licht Wasser


By David Clemmer

Mainz, Germany 2002

The transformation of Eric Tillinghast’s work over the past several years could be interpreted as a radical departure. As a sculptor working in steel he produces both wall mounted and freestanding pieces that suggest kinship with the aesthetics of Donald Judd, Isamu Noguchi, and Richard Serra. In the mid 1990’s, Tillinghast began to experiment with incorporating various liquids into his horizontally-oriented sculptures, filling circular holes, shallow reservoirs, and linear grooves with water, glycerin, or even transmission fluid. These works contrast the surface qualities of matte black steel with the fluid elements: depending upon the light conditions in which these sculptures are viewed and the orientation of the viewer, the liquids can appear as either transparent – merging with the black metal, or glossy and reflective – mirroring the surrounding environment.

Long influenced by the California-based Light and Space artists and installation conceptualists such as Felix Gonzalez Torres and Wolfgang Laib, Tilinghast has been steadily moving towards an environmental approach to his work. His minimalist sensibility is more the result of a poetic striving for purity, a desire to adhere to the elemental, rather than what the pugnacious critic Robert Hughes has described as a desire for “art which could be taken in at a single look, in which nuance didn’t matter.”
Tillinghast’s current work responds continuously to the most subtle gradations of illumination – a beautifully conceived and highly articulated manifestation of the old adage that “ you can never step in the same river twice.” As a medium for artistic expression water is infinitely adaptable: physical yet formless, transparent yet reflective, it is simultaneously a material, and object, and a natural phenomenon. The only manner in which the artist can give it form is to contain it, imposing shape, surface, and volume. It is these unique qualities that inspire and inform Tillinghast’s work.

The Santa Fe Reporter - Casual Water


By Dennis Jarrett

The Santa Fe Reporter – June 7, 2000

I resigned from art school – Salt Lake City’s famous Art Barn – because Minimalism hadn’t been invented yet. I went into writing because I couldn’t draw or paint. If I’d been born twenty years later, I wouldn’t have had to make that embarrassing choice. I was born minimal, and I’d always been good at Concepts, and all you really need to represent a concept is a tray of sand and a piece of lead pipe and a provocative title, like “Untitled.”

By the early 1980’s, the brilliant concept “less is more” suddenly had so much stature in the art world that you’d think it had been invented by some genius – Werner Heisenberg, for instance – during an uncertain moment in the bathtub. I picture him thinking, 2,200 years after Archimedes, “If I say ‘Eureka!,’ will that change the Eureka experience?” My imaginary Heisenberg climbs out of the tub and towels off and, as the water spirals down the drain, he notices that the tub has changed from a banal human washing machine into a piece of art: stark, white, and significantly chipped. Now that it is dry, he can call it “Water” and install it in a gallery. Who could ask for less?

It’s always been easy to exploit Minimalism. This movement made it possible for philosophy majors to graduate from college with a Senior Exhibition. But a number of real artists – Donald Judd in particular – began to produce work that was visually engaging, interesting, even beautiful. Today, Minimalism is still a viable, often exciting approach to art. It still sustains the careers of quite a few wannabes, but it also gives rise to masters and artists headed in that direction, like Eric Tillinghast.

Why do I have water on the mind? Because Tillinghast’s recent work, soon to be exhibited at Charlotte Jackson Fine Art, is about capturing and displaying water: often in tiny reservoirs, reducing the world’s most plenteous substance to the level of cut diamonds. The reservoirs sit inside worked steel. Often they are lines, so bare that you can’t help seeing and believing that their cargo is precious.

The spiritual primacy of water is as ancient as the Babylonian story of the maiden Ishtar’s decent to the underworld so she can restore Tammuz with the water of life. Ivan Illich writes, “ Water remains a chaos until a creative story interprets its seeming equivocation… most myths of creation have as one of their main tasks the conjuring of water.”

Tillinghast has set himself to the task of building such a creative story about water. By minimalizing it, he simultaneously magnifies it for inspection, and for reverence. One of his most effective “stories” is a charcoal-grey steel table, about eight feet long by 14 inches wide. On it are five rectangular steel plates, slightly darker than the surface on which they sit. Each supports, or encloses, a specimen of water. That the matrix (see matter, material, mama) is steel, gives you a sense of raw power cradling the softest, most fugitive stuff on earth.

Jackson laughed as she showed me that first table, saying that this was the first time she’d ever had to feed the art. In other words, this precious commodity evaporates, especially in Santa Fe.

Whoever is in charge of Golf – the same deity responsible for the absurd Green Blazer Devotions practiced by men who are served Budweiser beer and numbered irons by other men called Caddies – came up with the fabulous expression, “Casual Water.” It’s water at its most surprising, water unexpected, water that complicates and therefore beautifies the game. Eric Tillinghast is playing at the top of his form this month.

THE Magazine - Hanging Panels



By Jan E. Adlmann

THE Magazine – June 2007

It is rare, in reading or writing on Minimalism, that the soul ever enters into the discourse. Minimalism can flower into some fairly exotic forms, as is borne out by the enameled steel panels recently created by Eric Tillinghast. This viewer, gliding from one to another of these works given over to color orchestration (by virtue of their modest scale, color “tone poems” may best describe their effect), couldn’t help but to recollect something that Kandinsky said about color harmonies: “Color Harmony” ultimately rests on “purposive playing on the human soul.”

Each of Tillinghast’s discreet panels does indeed play on the soul, since each composition has clearly been the result of exquisite decision-making as to the effect certain combinations and certain proportions will call forth for the viewer. Kandinsky, a non-objectivist, paradoxically described this kind of musicality in color in the most subjective of ways: “ the artist is the hand that plays… color is the keyboard… the soul is the piano with many strings.”

To summon a wide variety of different emotional vibrations, Tillinghast painstakingly considers not merely the selection of colors used in each piece (matte, non-reflective enamels) but, most critically, the combinations he proposes and the precise amount of retinal play he allots to each color in any given work. What is further ingratiating about each of these exquisite essays is the very subtle sensation we get of witnessing vibrating, shifting planes; in some instances, we think we see one plane blending with another to form a third color.

The artist has called this new series of works “color constructions” and, indeed, any viewer could be forgiven for assuming that they are fabricated from nothing more than colored construction paper. Tillinghast intentionally eschews the sort of automotive sheen-enameled steel that might invite him to the point where the works would have an almost playful insubstantiality.   The range of color combinations is remarkable, with some works reductive in the extreme (white on white, blue and white) and others leaping out in riotous color. Some panels – like the one in canary, hot pink, orange and royal blue – suggest a hot and tropical, downright “carioca” sensibility, while others in brown, orange, and yellow, work in a meditative mode. Perhaps the most accessible aspect of these handsome works has to have been their modest pricing. At $1,600 each, a single purchase could be the cornerstone of a beginner’s (or a connoisseur’s) collection.

© 2018 Eric Tillinghast