We met Eric Orr at the Taylor Gallery in Taos one midmorning following his July 10 opening (the show hangs through August 8). Looking to be in the latter stages of waking up, he is a shortish, stocky fellow, with closely cropped dark hair flecked with gray, dark eyes, in his forties, and dressed all in white. We retreated to the kitchen at the rear of the gallery with Eric, accepted a cup of coffee and, while he discussed some details of his impending marriage and wedding with Howard and Mara Taylor, we wandered back into the gallery proper to have a final look before the interview.
Eric Orr has moved, from his first exhibited work at the University of Cincinnati in 1964 (a cocked Colt .45 at eye level for a seated viewer two feet away, trigger rigged to a treadle nestled comfortably under one’s right foot) to membership in a West Coast group called by critics, Light and Space or Phenomenological Artists. Their focus was (and is) on the perceptual process itself, the way one perceives and the manner in which that process of “seeing” may be manipulated or altered. He has explored techniques and possibilities that are suggested to him by both scientific and ceremonial / ritualistic traditions.
Some of the most arresting works have been his installations. Sunrise, constructed in the Cirrus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1969, was a room whose outer dimensions measured 9 feet by 9 feet by 18 feet high, its exterior covered by a sheet of lead. (The dimensions relate to those of the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid.) On the interior wall of the back of the room, the light of the sun was reflected through a channel extending through the roof by a tracking device which followed the course of the sun from dawn to dusk. Its Egyptian references, the perceptible change in atmosphere created by the lead sheathing outside, which created a “cosmic ray void”, and the room’s eerie silence (the interior walls were heavily insulated) produced a space in which one’s experience of one’s self, of the space, and of the world, was somehow changed, transformed, and altered.
He has collaborated with Larry Bell on the design of The Solar Fountain, a project begun several years ago and soon to be constructed in Denver. A bowl of glass some 34 feet in diameter and 10 feet high will sit in a 60 foot reflecting pool. An agricultural spray system, situated in the middle of the gold coated bowl, produces a fine cloud of water vapor. The sun reflects gold light onto the cloud and, because of the heat factor which causes a change in the molecular size of the water particles, creates rainbows within the cloud.
At once he rails against “art about art” and the making of art objects, paintings, and sculpture, yet makes them himself. His efforts are far from ordinary. The paintings are made from such elements as gold leaf, carbon, human bone, pulverized radio, and human blood, and the sculpture from fire, water, and gold leaf. As he says, he is interested in “the thing itself.” He wears his apparent contradictions as an actor wears his roles. He is engaged and engaging, eager to discuss his work and, it seems, just about anything else.
We talked in the quiet gallery, in the midst of his show, perched on the bancos around an empty fireplace.You’re getting married on Sunday.
Getting married on Sunday!
I’ve always liked nine because it has that additive function. Four times nine is . . . ?
Who did you apprentice yourself to?Mark di Suvero was one. I was very idealistic at a certain point in my life, and he was working on the Peace Tower, and in my last year of university life I decided I better learn a skill (laughter).l So I learned welding, right, and I started making sculpture, and I thought, “Man, this is it! I can be paid to do something I like.” So when I got to California and saw this Peace Tower being built, I went up to di Suvero and said, “I’m a welder, can you use me?” Gradually we got to know each other pretty well and other stuff came out.
|"Crazy Wisdom, lead with human skull fragments, radio,
blood, and gold,. 14 x 11 inches.
I’m trying to deal with mental sets, places that just relax your mind, so that if I’m able to come up with a thought and translate that thought into an object and it does what I want to do, I feel better about it. Really, all my pieces are pictorial organization things to me. It’s a matter of learning how to integrate these curious materials so that they do key in responses to me and others, that I know when I go at it. And that takes time. I don’t say, “This is it.” This is beginning stuff.
Opinions like that, which I think I share, can make you cynical and make you fatalistic. . .Not necessarily, because I’m sorry, we are fatal anyway. In the next 80 years or so, 4 billion people will die of natural causes – that’s a lot of people right there. I just want to get to the birthday. I’d like to see the turn of the century, just because I think it would be a great birthday.
Or your own personal life?[Pause] Hmmmm . . . Tragedies whip through your mind. They come and go, and that’s just part of your life. And as you get older, you get more [laughter], which is great. I’ve noticed that tragedies increase as age increases. All your friends around you die, and then you die.
--Stephen Parks, August, 1982