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To Eyre is Human

The eccentric double and triple images by Canadian artist Janieta Eyre, (yes that is her real name) are vivid self portraits produced by a bizarre imagination. Eyre, a recent graduate of the Ontario College of Art, took up photography in 1995 and has already been widely collected and exhibited internationally and in the United States. This is her second show at the Frumkin/Duval Gallery. The carefully staged portraits, which have the feeling of a foreign culture in another time and another place, are said to be “spirit photographs,” exploring themes of death, resurrection and genetic engineering, and are inspired by a recurrent dream.  In the dream Eyre is sitting at a long table holding hands with people on either side of her. A seance is under way. Her name is spelled out on a ouija board and mispronounced. The medium tells Eyre there is a message, but Eyre runs from the room in fear that her dead self is trying to communicate with her.

Eyre photographs herself in homemade costumes of wrinkled taffeta, lace, boldly striped and checkered coats or pants and pots and pans with accompanying props of purses, dildos, chairs and other items impossible to name.  In “The Yes Queen” Eyre holds up a paddle with a row of fish glued to it and the number 7 written on the handle. She wears a folded newspaper hat, a corset of some design, under a slip over a panel of lace. In the left quarter of the background is a huge checkerboard covering the wall behind a stuffed chair with an image pinned to the back. In the right three quarters is a painted pastoral scene.  Eyre sits with her legs tucked under her and stares expressionless directly into the camera. She wears a ski mask with the face cut out, dark circles around her eyes, and the word “yes” printed on her forehead. What does it all mean? One has the sense of a little girl’s dress-up party brought into the adult world and gone bad, or a fashion shoot where everything is wrong; but it’s all done with such scrupulous craftsmanship, obsessive intentionality, brilliant colors, sharp focus, and semi-Cindy Sherman-like-conceptual-art references, that the work cannot be easily dismissed. There is something unreasonably compelling about these images. For one thing, Eyre is strikingly photogenic. She has the chiseled chin line, full lips, wide eyes, high forehead, and slightly off-beat looks of a Bruegel painting or a Vermeer.  Her dead-pan confrontation of the viewer causes us to stop and stare back. She’s not afraid to wear a plastic penis and photograph doubles of herself with Mickey Mouse ears on her head. (In this case, however, she closed her eyes) We try without success to decipher the meaning of the meticulously chosen props and costumes, and to find direction for the many bold textures, shapes and patterns she so painstakingly arranges in these tableaux. But it doesn’t matter. Eyre is a talented beginner just finding her way. Her genius is that she has drawn us into her world helter-skelter, and like Alice in Wonderland we wait mesmerized to see where she will take us next.

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