Deep-thinking and largely self-taught, Eric Orr created sculptures, installations, and paintings full of unconventional juxtapositions—fire and water, blood and varnish, pulverized human bones and radio parts—and wisdom. Sometimes these elements were obvious, as in his fountains, in which water cascades down the sides of a square pillar as flames simultaneously lick upwards. Other times these elements were subtle, even invisible, as in his luminous paintings, with blood lending depth to crimson paint or powdered radio parts and charred bones, sprinkled unseen around the edges of the composition. “I’m interested in the stuff you don’t see, but it’s there,” he once said. A selection of the celebrated artist’s paintings is soon to be on view at Phoenix’s Bentley Gallery, in an exhibition that illuminates the broad scope of his works on canvas, including his “Zero Mass” series, which has not been shown since 1997.
That Orr was closely associated with the Light & Space Movement is apparent in these works, which are less paintings than squares of color and light. They reflect his exploration of our perception of our surroundings, as well as his immersion in early Buddhist philosophy, with its emphasis on emptiness as a form of clarity and death as an inextricable part of life. BA-KA Radio Play (1988), for example, is composed of shimmering gold leaf on lead, sprinkled with skull chips and bits of a meteorite, and incorporating blood. In The Other Side of Red #5 (circa. 1988), the artist focused on the luminescence contained within darkness. Here a shadowy red square floats in the center of a black background which is framed on two side by a blue frame, all of which is mounted on a golden panel. This work also utilizes paint intermixed with blood. For Orr, the inclusion of such a bodily substance into an otherwise ethereal work activates the mind as well as the eye, an aim he brought to all of his pieces. As he once said: “The blood [is] background information, […] not necessary to the viewing of the object. Once you know about it, it’s there, even though your retina doesn’t give you the information. And I like the mind giving you the information rather than the retina. It gives me another edge.”