Sometimes hidden gems are found in dead ends. Eonta Space, a gallery and performance space near Journal Square nestled into a quiet, residential neighborhood off Dekalb Ave, can be found down a narrow lane that would be easy to miss if not for a vinyl sign with a large arrow leading you to the front of a modern home at the end of a shady street. There, you know you’re in the right place thanks to a towering, brightly colored fabric sculpture that stands out against the bare, grey trees and beacons you past the metal gates of a private driveway that feels invasive to enter if not for the sculpture’s long, weeping-willow-like threads reassuring you’re on the right path. You feel a little like Alice in Wonderland as you make your way through the backyard, almost expecting the sculpture to hit you with a riddle as you walk by, but you’ll make it to the back door riddle-free and ready to see what curiosities await inside. The directors’ “eclectic, we’ll find a way to show it, ” philosophy ensures that no matter what, you’ll be blown away by what you find.
Bayard’s fabric sculpture. Photo by Colleen Morrison.
Artists Chasing Art, Not Money
Eonta Space was formed by Executive Director Lauren Farber in her 20s and has been constantly reinventing itself as a gallery and performance space in Jersey City over the years thanks in part to partnering with artists and co-directors Bayard and Dan Peyton three years ago. The Space, which hosts four shows a year, boasts an eclectic history of exhibitors and mediums, including prints, sculptures, musical and dance performances, sound installations, woven baskets, garbage installations, found object sculptures, and more, utilizing the square footage inside the gallery and the garden outside. The way the directors choose their artists and show themes is almost as eclectic as the work itself – they prefer to keep it organic and choose artists they’ve met through JC Fridays, were referred to them, gallery visitors, or met by chance through sparking conversations with interesting people who might otherwise not have a chance to show their art.
“We’re guided by what pleases and challenges us,” said Peyton. “Eonta Space is a laboratory where we offer them the space, and sometimes people make a body of work to fit in the space, and then we also offer them the opportunity to show work that they wouldn’t show elsewhere in a traditional gallery.”
“Well, you couldn’t,” said Farber, jumping in. “You wouldn’t have the freedom somewhere else. The people whose work we end up showing is always spectacular.”
As all three are artists – Bayard created the fabric sculpture welcoming everyone to the Space outside – it’s important to the co-directors to allow others, and themselves, to show art the way it deserves to be shown and allow artists to experiment with set ups and presentations within the blank canvas of the moderately sized room.
“The space has this magic,” said Peyton. “Since it’s sort of this white box, it has an ability to reinvent itself infinitely.”
“It’s an adaptable space,” said Bayard. “It could feel enormous or smaller and more intimate, or formal. The work dictates very much the feeling of the space.”
What makes Eonta Space especially unique is that the not-for-profit gallery does not require nor take a percentage of artists’ sales or charge them to show. All sales inquiries are directly referred to the artists themselves, bypassing the directors and gallery operations entirely. Farber provides the space and Bayard and Peyton take care of marketing, social media, and support while sales are left entirely in the hands of the artists.
“We don’t ask for anything,” said Bayard. “We don’t want any of their money.”
“Right, we’re not chasing crowds or money,” said Peyton. “We’re more interested in conversations and building community … and sparking interest through word of mouth.”
Two Collections of Hope, Loss, and Spiritual Celebration
A two-woman show, titled “Commit to Memory: The Precipice of Extinction,” featuring the art of Andrea McKenna and Cheryl Gross is on display at Eonta Space now through March 31, 2020. The show is set up as a harmonious contradiction with two collections that seem to be stark opposites on first review. Bold, brightly colored paintings with defined shapes line the walls while a black gossamer fabric with dark, heavy, abstractly painted figures hanging from driftwood and hooks cuts through the middle of the room. On the surface, the two don’t seem to have anything in common, but as they say: opposites attract, and having the two distinctly different styles hanging feet apart from each other highlights and allows them to stand out and create contrasting moods in an intimate space.
“Our work is so different but on a very interesting level, it complements itself and worked out well this way,” said Gross.
Their similarities, though not obvious on the surface with a cursory glance, are also played up in their proximity. Both, at the most basic level, play on the idea of life and death.
Gross’ – a JC artist who has been showing her work internationally for over 40 years – illustrative painted series portrays animals that are either extinct or on the border of extinction covered in paint “splatters,” lively cross hatched lines, bold patterns, and brilliant colors both unnatural and found in nature over quotes from poet Nicelle Davis and about life in general. A quick study of the playful paintings removes the pretty superficial mask and instead brings attention to the harsh reality of extinction, environmental preservation, and the fate of life on Earth as we know it.
“I wanted to produce a body of work that addresses something social and political,” said Gross. “The underlying aspect of the show is the fact that it’s sociopolitical and came about because of the 2016 election. You know: extinction.”
In the same vein of extinction, McKenna’s – a JC decorative artist, small business owner, and Gallery Director of Art House Productions– collection of painted tapestries explores what waits for us after life. McKenna started working on her series and exploring textures more in 2013 after her mother passed. Using acrylic over limestone plaster on canvas crates uneven, sculptural surfaces that are painted over with delicate strokes that create ephemeral faces emerging from the pitted landscape.
“I was painting a lot of what looked to me like spirits. It started to make sense to me with the textures that the spirits looked like they were being ripped apart from their bodies and sort of transferring into another dimension,” said McKenna. “The figures are sort of in-between worlds leaving their physical bodies and separating from that into something else we don’t know.”
The figures appear to be emerging from another universe or floating in a deep ocean of muted, murky colors that invoke wood, mist, oxidized metal, and decay with thin, delicate lines of shining gold and copper running throughout. Driftwood frames and hooks attached to the black netting hanging from the ceiling gives the feeling that these paintings were dredged up from the sea before the show.
Both collections play on the mystery, beauty, and tragedy of life and death, one in bold, warm color and the other in abstract, cool tones. Together, the existential installation leaves viewers to meditate on the questions: how can we better preserve life and where do those spirits go when we inevitably fail?
“Commit to Memory: The Precipice of Extinction” is open by appointment only through March 31, 2020. To set up an appointment to tour Eonta Space, visit www.eontaspacenj.com
See more of the artists’ work at www.AndreaMcKenna.com and www.CherylGross.net.