The Slutty Eye: Tone Poem

“You want to paint a hand? Well, if you realize that it is a hand, you’re fucked.” That’s how 19th-century French painter François Bonvin described the willfully naïve approach to representation practiced by some of his contemporaries. It’s a mode that lives on in Eric Elliott’s weirdly neutral and nearly monochromatic new paintings, in which a human face is just another visual phenomenon, of no greater importance than a wall or a chair. It’s not quite right to say that his subjects (mostly stuff that happens to be in his studio) fade into the background; it’s almost as if his paintings are all background. But though his palette is radically restricted and his contours are fuzzy, Elliott—a 2007 UW MFA grad and winner of the 2009 Neddy Artist Fellowship in painting—paints with logic and clarity, creating an entire world with small gestures. A change in tone from one gray to a slightly lighter gray is enough to indicate the volume of a sofa cushion, the corner of a sink, or the mysteriously receding space beyond the artist’s studio windows—all seen as if for the first time. (Pictured: In the Studio, 2009.)