Loveboat: Willehad Eilers @ Galerie Droste, Düsseldorf
The definition of the term "love boat" covers a difficult journey of a romantic relationship; an actual boat or ship which is the scene of a romantic encounter; or a slang for the drug phencyclidine (PCP). And somehow, all three of those could be a great backstory of the works that comprise Willehad Eilers eponymous show which is currently on view at Galerie Droste in Düsseldorf.
In the past few years, since the German-born and Amsterdam-based artist swapped his black ink "blind drawings" for oil paintings, we've been immersed in a universe filled with flesh, debauchery, luxury, alcohol, and abundance. And although regularly including elements from our everyday reality, or at least from the magazines and social media accounts presenting a polished version of it, this universe is certainly not parallel to ours. More crooked than anything else, the scenes that Eilers is portraying in his paintings are quite literally twisted, melted, deconstructed, and generally suspended, alongside with the protagonists and their surroundings. Because although they are packed with countless narratives and story lines that are forcing themselves onto each other, the depicted moments are in fact a second before everything explodes, or in this particular case, likely sinks down.
The titular piece in the show is suggesting exactly that - a jam packed cruiser floating lifelessly. Depicted as seen from a lifeboat nearby on which its passengers are continuing celebrating whatever can be celebrated at a moment like that, Eilers isn't showing that the boat is indeed going down. But with the way these Zombie-like senior party citizens are behaving, one can't really imagine any other scenario. And as if he's rewinding the surveillance camera back a few hours or days or maybe even weeks and months, the rest of the show is showing the type of debauchery taking place on the inside of the cruiser. I’m not saying these scenes would be normal on your average Princess Whatever, but there must be a timeline in which being locked on a floating resort would turn some of us into grotesque caricatures of our worst behaviors and lowest urges.
Showing more familiarity with the technique, Eilers constructed suggestively lit scenes, in which romantic ocean sunsets get a menacing shade and the boat goers start to disfigure as they're indulging into anything that an open sea cruise can offer. Depicted by quite literally forcing the paint into whatever he wants to create, the new monumental works are filled with the abundance of weirdly colored flesh, disfigured and dissolving faces, floating eyes and grins, as well as countless hints and symbols of mediocre luxury, self-serving snobbism, and general twistedness. With this exhibition the artist is continuing his interest in exploring the connection between pleasure, joy and the suffering that comes with it. Although boiling down to an orgy of drunkenness and misbehaving, the whole body of work revolves around the desire for warmth and being appreciated. Essentially - love. —Sasha Bogojev
Install photos by Galerie Droste, detail photos by Sasha Bogojev