Installation View: Callum Eaton, Look But Don't Touch, August 2023. Photography by Ben Westoby. Image courtesy of the artist and Carl Kostyál Gallery
Installation View: Callum Eaton, Look But Don't Touch, August 2023. Photography by Ben Westoby. Image courtesy of the artist and Carl Kostyál Gallery
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Review

Callum Eaton: Look But Don't Touch

4 out of 5 stars
Eddy Frankel
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Time Out says

Not many people had photorealism high on their list of things that would come back into fashion in 2023. But young English artist Callum Eaton doesn’t care. His show at Carl Kostyal is nothing but full-on, unabashed, trompe l’oeil photorealism. It’s very 70s, but still manages to feel somehow contemporary. 

It’s all vending machines, lifts, phone boxes and photobooths. Two laundrette washing machines are retro faded blue and covered in signs of endless wear and tear, the lifts are all gleaming steel and yellowed striplights, the vending machines are so accurately done you want to drop a quid in for a Coke.

They’re very, very well painted. But the thing about photorealism is that it’s a trick, a flashy bit of skill to make viewers go weak at the knees in awe at the artist’s talent. And it’s an old trick, too (there was even a photorealist lift in Allison Katz's Camden Art Centre show last year). Plus, we live in a post-conceptual world where pretty much everyone has accepted that idea trumps execution. Painting really well just isn’t enough, you need substance.

The vending machine and lift paintings fall into that trap a little, but Eaton brings it all back from the precipice of skill-flexing in the others by including some hint of private narrative, a hidden bit of himself that manages to pop through the canvas. The generic faces on the side of the photobooth have been swapped for his own passport photo – there he is again, staring back at you in the reflection in the washing machine door. There’s an empty Lost Mary vape box balancing on one of the phone boxes, a full can of Red Stripe tucked away in another. Slowly, the best of these neat trompe l’oeil paintings reveal themselves as self-portraits. Sometimes directly, and other times just as documents of his aesthetic fancies. Captured on an iPhone, recast in paint, they’re oddly joyful celebrations of the everyday, of mundanity, of going to the launderette, having a Coke, getting your passport photo done. These little snippets of Gen Z tinnies-and-vapes hyperrealism are documents of life, and how even when it’s boring, it can still be beautiful.

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