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Eric Orr

American
(1939–1998)

Rune
1989

Blood, gold, and metorite dust on wood panel
13.5 x 9 in. (34.29 x 22.86 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
2007.72

Eric Orr possessed a longtime interest in sacred geometries and primordial mysteries. In Rune (the title of which refers to ancient Germanic alphabets with supposedly magical powers, or more generally to obscure writing using mysterious symbols), Orr created a sacred geometry in contemporary terms. Throughout the twentieth century, abstract painters often conveyed symbolic spiritual content through geometric shapes. In the 1920s Piet Mondrian equated the harmony achieved through balancing horizontal and vertical lines with utopian spiritual ideals. Barnett Newman, in the 1950s, painted a vertical line through the center of his paintings, which he called a “zip” and viewed as a metaphor for the infiite sublime. Compositionally Rune derives from this tradition, with Orr using a series of alternating red and gold vertical stripes and a centrally positioned dark vertical bar to symbolize life, eternity, and the transitional space between the worlds of physical and metaphysical consciousness.

To understand Orr’s symbolic content fully, it is important to consider his materials. In Rune, several of the vertical stripes are painted with the artist’s blood, while the remainder of them are rendered in gold. According to Orr, blood is a signifier for humanity, for human lives on earth. Additionally, painting with his blood was a way to literally personalize a work by putting his own DNA into it. By contrast, gold is equated with eternity, a role it has played in sacred art throughout time and across cultures. The third element in the painting, a meteorite, is configured like a tunnel, an architectural format that Orr used in his earliest installations. A piece of rock that fell from outer space here becomes the mysterious passageway between life on earth and the unknown regions that lie beyond everyday existence.

David S. Rubin


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