Injecting Life into Art: The Artist Who Experiments with Blood

Jordan Eagles has won fans and critics alike for his use of animal blood in his art work.

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HF4 by Jordan Eagles

Using oil paints on a canvas is so passé. Jordan Eagles prefers to liven up his work a bit. The New York-based artist has just launched his latest show, in which the title, ‘Hemofields,’ hints at the heart of his notoriety: Eagles nickname is the ‘Blood Artist’ for his use of animal blood in his artwork.

For over 14 years, Eagles has been working with animal blood to explore what he thinks are life’s fundamental questions. His artwork has evolved from acetate sheets pasted onto canvas, painted over with blood, to abstract pieces as big as 32 feet long that capture the process of rendering and preserving blood using various materials.

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Part of what fueled his experiment was a conversation at college with his best friend Greg about life after death. Eagles decided to create a series of paintings that would act as a counter-argument to these debates. He initially used red paint to bring scientific illustrations of childbirth to life. “The problem was that the paint was not capturing the root of that emotional charge that represents life, so I decided to go down to Chinatown and get a pint of blood instead,” says Eagles.

After creating the pieces for the childbirth series, they naturally changed shade over time. “The colors changed from a pretty vibrant red, to a darker crimson and then to brown,” says Eagles of the oxidation process. In a bid to learn how to stop this decomposition, he set about on a trial and error experiment using heat, electricity, different drying methods and other organic matter to transform this substance of life.

While he insists his approach doesn’t stem from any preconceptions or connotations attached to the material, his work is nevertheless replete with symbolism. Copper finds a central place because it is a conductor of electricity, gauze because it is a means of wrapping and preserving wounds. He describes his usual approach as that of a maximalist, which he tried to avoid with his current work: “I tried to be more minimal with Hemofields, trying to reduce and isolate the process.”

It is clear that Eagles is somewhat keen to steer away from the shock value that many critics associate with the use of organic materials. He also professes to being largely oblivious to others’ work: “I had no context for what I was doing in terms of what has been done before – it was more about presenting my artwork to my friend as an aha!”

Hermann Nitsch, part of the Viennese Actionism movement of the 1960s and 1970s, is thought of as one of the earliest artists using blood as a means of expression – though Nitsch is often perceived as being ritualistic and existential. More recently, British artist Marc Quinn’s self-portrait cast of his head using his own blood was met with much controversy.

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There are those opposed entirely to the use of blood itself, and Eagles has his own critics.  His riposte is that seeing is believing: “Most of the people who have problems with my work are also people who have not seen my work in person.”

For those expecting something befitting of the walls of American Psycho narrator Patrick Bateman, they won’t find it in ‘Hemofields’. The series takes its cue from the abstract aura of color field painting as well as force fields. Pieces such as Roze14 are much more luminous, showcasing the shimmering qualities of the copper on the gauze rather than hinting at the blood that has been mixed in with it. Others such as HF4 are much more illustrative of the different quality and texture of the suspended blood.

Eagles says that even after so many years, he still plans on working with blood: “There is a finite use of material here and the challenge is in reinventing it over and over again.” As for whether he and his best friend have now settled their initial debate from college, Eagles says it is still “an ongoing conversation.”

Hemofields is on display at the Krause Gallery, New York from September 5 – October 16, 2012.