In works that are a haemophobe’s nightmare, New York-based artist Jordan Eagles has spent the last 15 years experimenting with the medium of animal blood, devising ways to preserve its extraordinary colour spectrum and textural richness. His self-invented technique uses resin and Plexiglas to encase the volatile organic material, preventing its decay. His works, which have been widely exhibited and feature in many permanent collections in the USA, vary from abstract panels to installations in which he bathes an entire room in projected ‘blood light’.
This interview is from our 2016 publication One Artist, One Material: Fifty-five makers on their medium, available for purchase here.
Why did you start using blood?
JORDAN EAGLES: I was in college and questioning the connection between body and spirit. I was looking through some childbirth illustrations in a medical encyclopaedia, and I was struck by how sterile and emotionless the images were. I began using these medical drawings as photo transfers, dripping red paint onto them, but the results were flat and lifeless. So instead of symbolizing blood with red paint, I decided to use real blood. This decision came to me with a great deal of exhilaration, and suddenly the works came alive with the first drop.
Your current works do seem exceptionally animated . . .
At its core, my work is about regeneration, taking the life force of something no longer living and giving it new life. Blood is a fascinating material to work with because of its dynamic properties. It emits an intense and spiritual energy. The works seem to be lit from within.
Where does the blood come from?
I buy cattle blood by the gallon from a slaughterhouse. In my studio I transfer it to smaller containers, freeze it and then defrost as needed. Some of it I dry, in order to use it in powdered form.
How do you stabilize such an organic material?
Basically I use a UV-resistant resin to prevent the textures and colours fading over time. But I’ve evolved a number of other techniques. Recently I’ve been soaking gauze in blood, mixing blood with copper, and employing outdoor sun-drying techniques. I’ve also been using aged blood dust, which enables to me to generate dark colours and is another way to recycle the blood.
Can you keep evolving new techniques?
Yes – in fact, just this week I was experimenting with blood and resin and varying the drying times in order to create new fractal patterns. I’ll keep working with blood as long as I continue to be inspired by it.
Are you aware of challenging a taboo?
I think blood is a special and sacred material. You can consider it taboo, because we humans have it running through our bodies. Each of us has a unique relationship with it. My works allow viewers to experience something they might not normally see, despite their innate connection with the material. On the other hand, artists have probably worked with blood ever since early cave paintings – think of Hermann Nitsch, Ana Mendieta, Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn, Ron Athey and Andres Serrano, to name just a few.
What do your blood works mean?
My works are abstract and propose philosophical questions about mortality, spirituality and creation. The works become relics of that which was once living, embodying transformation, regeneration and an allegory of death to life. The images themselves sometimes appear like the big bang, the beginning of time, prehistoric landscapes, molten lava, aerial views of land or lightning bolts.
What’s the most ambitious blood work you’ve done?
Perhaps BAR 1-9, a blood mural over 10 m wide and nearly 3 m tall.
Do people make vampire jokes about you?
A lot. Sometimes my work is called ‘vampire chic’ or ‘creepy’ – it’s fine with me, as long as people own their opinions.
Where else does your fascination with blood take you?
My fascination with blood is primarily spiritual. For me, when I look out into the night sky or see images of outer space captured by telescopes, I realize how these celestial patterns are similar to the cellular makeup of blood, reminding me that we are all connected.