Figures, part-beast and part-human, struggle to regain a sense of identity, support and control within sensual, exuberant, violent, and/or co-dependent relationships. The works often contain narratives that deal with a coming to terms with past actions taken or current events not easily forgotten. Heaps of figures are mixed-up, entangled, disfigured and forced into co-dependent communities, fragile structures where there is potential for reconciliation and collapse.
If one were to imagine the unlikely convergence of pathetic, discarded, thrift store toys and stuffed animals, the fantastical imagery of the 15th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, snippets from classic mid-century animated cartoon shorts, and the zany figurative works of fellow Canadian artist Jon Pylypchuk, it might look something like the drawings and sculpture of Eric Conrad. If only there were a name for this quirky sub-genre of contemporary art, then works by Eric Conrad and others whose incorporation of found materials and use of a slightly wonky aesthetic that can be likened to naïve art would be easier to describe.
Exhibited regionally, nationally, and internationally in exhibitions with titles like Anthropomorphology, Under Certain Conditions, Yesnomaybe, and You+Me+You, Conrad’s works explore social psychology, emotional entanglement, socialization, and some of the various possible permutations of human existence, sometimes light and sometimes dark.
In viewing works such as Last Night (b.), one has the distinct sense that Conrad’s characters are rascals, or rowdies, or just innocently involved in a circumstance that resulted from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, perhaps just with the wrong people. Uniformed athletes, soldiers, masked businessmen and preps clad in argyle sweaters become part of a chaotic jumble that also includes discarded musical instruments, beat-up clunkers and heavily wrinkled bed sheets. The scene is at once violent and intimate, disturbing and sensual, confounding and empathetic. At one time or another we have all been unwittingly caught up in a sallied moment, and perhaps it is for that reason that we are able to find something endearing in these figures that come straight out of an imagined menagerie of hopeless cast-offs.
Conrad was born in Toronto in 1972 and lives currently in Lawrence, Kansas. After undergraduate studies in mathematics and fine art, graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and an M.F.A. degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, Conrad has settled into a creative life as an active member of the Lawrence art community and an Assistant Professor of Art and Foundation Studies Coordinator at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. Distinguished grants and activities along Conrad’s career path include a Pollock-Krasner grant, a Frans Masereel Centre Artist Residency, a visual arts fellowship at The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and residencies at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Nebraska, and Anderson Ranch in Snowmass, Colorado.
-Raechell Smith, Director/Curator, H&R Block Artspace