Born in Switzerland (1985)
Lives and works in Basel and Zürich
2011 BANE BEGINS, Gallery Daeppen, Basel
2011 PAN'S DEMONIUM, Galerie ArtSeefeld, Zurich
2010 CHRONICLES OF EVER, Gallery Daeppen,
2010 R.I.PENTAGRAM, Gallery Daeppen, Basel
2012 7h Art Special, Messeturm, Basel
2011 Catch of the year 2011, Dienstgebäude Art Spcae, Zurich
2011 20 Years Gallery Daeppen (Private Collection), Gallery Daeppen, Basel
2011 Swiss Photo Award EWZ Selection, EWZ Unterwerk Selnau, Zurich
2011 Photo 10, Maag Event Hall, Zurich
2010 L'âme de la Mode, Revier, Zurich
2010 BNP Paribas Zurich Open, Saalsporthalle, Zurich
2009 Photo 09, Maag Event Hall, Zurich
2009 Jewelbox ArtEvent #2, Papiersaal Sihlcity, Zurich
2009 Jewelbox ArtEvent #1, Papiersaal Sihlcity, Zurich
2008 Photo 08, Maag Event Hall, Zurich
2008 Young At Art, Gallery ArtSeefeld, Zurich
2007 Photo 07, Maag Event Hall, Zurich
2011 Swiss Photo Award, Category Fine Arts
2011 Photo Price Julius Bär Stiftung
2011 Swiss Photo Awards, Ron Orp Community Award
Joel Eschbach is an urbanite. His image-making career started when journalistic work opened his eyes to the effect of image and words on viewers. His first pictures were of friends, set against the concrete spaces of Basel city. This was around 2007, the beginning of an ongoing and ever more meticulous engagement with photography and fine art. Eschbach has consistently avoided studying art, graphics or photography in any form, wanting instead to allow the ideas that drive him free form. For his early work, he adopted the pseudonym ‘The Umbrella Kid’. He used this alias as his disguise for five years, taking advantage of the unfettered freedom that anonymity offered to explore and develop a visual language of his own. The Umbrella Kid was a puppet in his control, a figure he could destroy and resurrect, who could be provocateur or victim, and who could start afresh at any time.
The Umbrella Kid used bare concrete as a canvas on which to draw spare, stark images in black and white. The bodies that first featured were gradually edited out to leave line, geometry and texture formed by walls and props. His images were precise, but never doctored. Shape and depth were created by form and light as it fell naturally. This meant that his method was laborious, beginning with a detailed study of a form, sometimes an instinctive invention, sometimes based on geometric rules or structures. After this initial step he sought the architecture against which he could articulate the form and waited patiently for the atmospheric conditions that would allow him to conjure the right lines from sunlight.
The Umbrella Kid is dead – long live Joel Eschbach! In the lifetime of The Umbrella Kid Eschbach worked through a process that pared his photographs back to a minimal state. This was his artistic youth. Having done this, having brought his practice to a mature level, Eschbach realised that he had reached a limit, that he could reduce too far. While his visual language is now honed, it is time to put it to work to express his ideas, for simplicity alone was never the ultimate goal. His geometric lines were never decorative, but had to make a grid for sticky ideas and to involve the viewer in a dialogue.
While he is a child of a digital age, Eschbach is by no means its cheerleader. On the contrary, he tries to distance himself from it, to make the case for actual experience. His technique is neither digital, nor are his images retrospectively reworked on a computer screen. The internet is his research library, but his methods are of the old school. Rather than being in thrall to the technologies that are deemed to simplify lives and that render their users ever less competent, Eschbach tries to distance himself, to remain self-reliant.
His works reveal a painstaking method and speak of time spent with his subjects, of duration. Thematically, his most recent images quietly but insistently signal how we are becoming ever more isolated by the very tools that would help us communicate. Images that play with depth, framing and cropping suggest that the drive to record events distances us from them. Experience through a camera may be at a remove too far.
Another recurrent motif in Eschbach’s latest photographs is the interplay between opposing but interdependent facets of the same concept. Without evil there can be no good, without darkness, light. His first forays into sculpture also explore these reciprocal relationships. These freestanding objects and murals are simple, clear-cut symbolic forms that expand the vocabulary of his images. Recent decades have provided much material for the field of axiology, in its philosophical sense; the current day meritocracy continually recalibrates value and distorts its assessment. In Eschbach’s view traditional values risk being trumped by superficial attributes. When Keats wrote ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty’ readers found it problematic; it may have been an eerie prophesy. In his photographs and three dimensional works the artist, himself a chaotic optimist, creates focus and clarity, a space to examine darker aspects of life, a pointed attack on the creeping lassitude of our virtually connected time.
By Anoife Rosenmeyer