What would happen if life as we knew it began to deteriorate? As civilization crumbled, our uglier instincts — traits we have deemed uncivilized — would show themselves as we struggled to survive. Eddie Colla’s latest body of work, “Atavisms,” invites us to examine the primitive instincts that exist within us all. In biology, an atavism is defined as an ancestral trait that reappears even though it seemed to vanish generations before. Colla beckons us to examine this idea in a social context with his large-scale, confrontational portraits. Rendered on metal with muted colors and rusty textures, his mixed-media works appear as though they were created on the walls of dilapidated, industrial buildings. Colla’s subjects look similarly rugged. Brandishing tools and weapons, they lock the viewer in with their gazes as they prepare themselves for whatever awaits on the horizon. Colla envisions these people neither heroes nor victims. He depicts his characters in dire straits — in situations where our society’s acceptable moral code no longer applies.
“For all our refinement, technology and wisdom, there is really only a thin, fragile membrane between who we are today and who we were in the past,” said Colla. “That membrane is preserved by a structure and a set of circumstances that could break in a very short time.”
This apocalyptic scenario has been developing in Colla’s work over the past several years. The artist says that he has reached a point of intimacy with his characters where context is no longer crucial and nuances are paramount. While Colla’s previous work has placed these figures in megalopolises on the brink of collapse, the works in “Atavisms” invite viewers to connect with them on a human level rather than interpret them as symbols of a larger narrative. He compares this evolution to that of a relationship: “[Over time] your interactions become much more specific and personal there is a level of familiarity that bypasses all the basic information. That's sort of where I am with these characters.”
While Colla’s imaginings of a social collapse may seem like a far-off fantasy, his body of work reflects real-world anxieties that plague America as the income gap widens and resources become less accessible. When pushed to our extremes, what risks wouldn’t we take to get by?
About Eddie Colla:
Eddie Colla is an interdisciplinary artist and designer based in Oakland, CA. After graduating from California College of the Arts in 1991, he went on to pursue a successful career as a commercial photographer and photojournalist for the New York Times before turning his focus to his personal studio and street art practice. He is the co-founder and curator at Loakal Art Gallery in Oakland.
Opening Reception: August 22, 7-10 pm
Ian Ross Gallery
466 Brannan Street, San Francisco