Callum Eaton - Exhibition Text Originally published to accompany Callum Eaton’s solo exhibition ‘Look But Don’t Touch’ at Carl Kostyál (London, 18th August - 16th September) August 2023
Having pursued that particular painterly perfection of photorealism since his time at Goldsmiths (BA Fine Art, 2019), Callum Eaton watched on with a sense of satisfaction when an inebriated attendee of an early open studio session attempted, inevitably in vain, to interact with a two-dimensional depiction of a conventional cash machine. The frustrated fumblings of Eaton’s incapacitated patron recall that renowned Grecian tale of illusionary artworks, Zeuxis and Parrhasius’ contest of artistic artifice. The latter, incensed at the former’s ability to produce a still-life so accurate that birds would fly down in an effort to pick at the grapes portrayed, decided to develop his own deceitful depiction. When complete, Parrhasius invited his unwitting rival to view his latest masterpiece, safely stored behind the draped curtains of his studio. Upon reaching out to unveil the artwork, an unsuspecting Zeuxis encountered only solid surface and yielded to the superior draughtsman, the curtains themselves being Parrhasius’s painting.
Following his solo exhibition ‘Hole in the Wall’ at Paris’ Long Story Short gallery early this year, where the artist presented a suite of the aforementioned super flat and functionless ATM machines, Eaton returns for a London debut featuring an expanded selection of the oft-overlooked street furniture and urban architecture that populate the artist’s hometown. Imbued with an acute awareness of conceptual art developed during his time at Goldsmiths and a wry critique of the ever-increasing commercialisation of contemporary culture and 21st-century society, Eaton’s artworks are self-referential to their own superficiality. Inhabiting a world reduced to two dimensions, these everyday objects intended for our interaction - their coin slots, keypads and buttons eagerly awaiting use - appear rather as readymades. They retain their form but lose their function. Akin to the austere Constructivist art of the 20th-century Soviet Union in their objectification of industrial and urban design; Futurist monuments to the now-outdated modern marvels of the technological world or even entertaining that Formalist tendency to assess an artwork purely on its aesthetic appearance or visual construction. Geometric Abstraction, sans abstraction.
Street-side telephone boxes made all but obsolete by mobile phones and now regularly removed by councils and city planners, remain as reliquaries to unrelenting digital advancement. Coca-Cola vending machines replete with Warholic repetition expose Eaton’s labour-intensive like-for-like replication of on-demand appeasement, while elevators from the artist’s own City of London-located studio space retain eerie echoes of their former life ferrying bankers and business people. Employing that trompe-l'œil trickery popularised by French genre-painter Louis-Léopold Boilly - whose portrayal of overlaid sheets of paper was selected for the Paris Salon of 1800 - Eaton doggedly documents his everyday environment, each painting becoming a new piece of his Sims-esque city-building expansion pack.
And just as the artist is present in Jan van Eyck’s famed Arnolfini Portrait easter-egg or the secret self-portraits that Baroque-period painter Clara Peeters snuck into her still-lives, Eaton himself appears as both an apparition reflected in the door of a launderette’s Washeteria and the example images one might obtain from a Photo-Me self-service photo-booth. The artist as subject - as object perhaps - blurring the lines between the real world he inhabits, and the flattened substrata simulation that exists on the surface of each canvas.