Jordan Eagles: Red Giant
Everson Museum of Art
September 21, 2013 – January 5, 2014

Like the dying star referenced in the exhibition title, the work of Jordan Eagles hovers between the beautiful and the sublime. The artist uses blood procured from a slaughterhouse to create works that explore ideas about transformation, death and regeneration.

Eagles first experimented with blood as an artistic medium in 1998 while an undergraduate student at NYU. Working on a series of paintings about childbirth he found red paint “too flat,” so he tried using animal blood purchased from a Chinatown butcher. Eagles eventually devised a method for preserving the blood, encasing it in layers of Plexiglas and UV resin to permanently fix its natural colors, patterns and textures. When properly lit, the translucent works seem to glow from within, casting shadows of abstract patterns.  

Over the years Eagles has developed various mark-making methods, including layering the blood at different densities as well as heating, burning, and aging it. Copper is often mixed with the blood to impart a fiery energy.  Including copper, which is a conductor of electricity, may also imply the idea of electrical impulses within the body that control all aspects of movement and life. Sometimes dense masses of decomposed blood are ground into dust and added into the works to signify change and the passage of time. No matter what process he uses, Eagles is always respectful—even reverent—of his material; he considers blood sacred, and sees his paintings as “relics” of something that was once alive.  

For this installation Eagles assembled a group of works that extends his familiar themes of birth, death and regeneration to the life cycle of a star. The exhibition title, RED GIANT, refers to a luminous giant star in its final phase of stellar evolution—what our Sun will become in five billion years—while also referencing the intense, potent color of blood. Eagles’ abstract patterns and forms suggest cosmic imagery like solar storms, sunspots, craters, meteorites, and perhaps even a supernova explosion. The fiery energy often present in his work seems particularly relevant to this subject matter. 

RED GIANT 7-8 is a diptych whose circular compositions suggest celestial spheres and solar systems. The two panels may also illustrate different stages in the stellar cycle—one expanding and the other contracting. The artist made this work outdoors in direct sunlight, utilizing the Sun’s heat to help create marks; Eagles believes this process infuses the work with the Sun’s energy. 

UR23 suggests a supernova—the explosive death of a star, which unleashes a burst of light and energy through the cosmos. BDLF1, made with blood dust, is an equally dynamic work that resembles a meteor shower or the surface detail of a sunspot. Both are pictures of explosive energy, captured and contained.  

The very luminous LIFE FORCE 2012-2 contains the most intense red color in the exhibition. Made with fresh blood, forced heat and burning techniques, the results are reminiscent of a solar storm while also referencing organs of the body. Here Eagles draws an effective parallel between inner and outer worlds—the microcosm of the individual and the macrocosm of the Universe—linking human bodies with heavenly bodies. 

Eagles created Untitled (Blood Mirror) with many dense layers of blood added to the resin during its various stages of curing time. This diptych addresses dark matter and dark energy in the Universe, while also serving as a literal mirror in which viewers can see themselves reflected in layers of blood.  

RED GIANT confronts us with the terrifying power of blood; it is a life force when it circulates within the body, but separated from the body it becomes a symbol of death. A paradoxical substance, blood simultaneously connotes life and death, violence and vitality. We may be seduced by the formal beauty of these works and attracted to their innate energy, but their corporeal presence also reminds us of our own mortality. RED GIANT invites each of us to contemplate our own place in the vastness of the Universe. Like Eagles’ work, that may leave us awestruck.

–Exhibition Essay by Mary Birmingham