Other Investigations: Matthew Metzger

Apr 17, 2012 / by Make Space / Make Space

Matthew Metzger is a Chicago based artist and has exhibited at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Tony Wight Gallery, Arratia Beer, Berlin, among others. Metzger is also co-editor of Shifter Magazine. Matthew’s work creates a sense of tension using paint as a distinctly separate and independent material from the rectangle it is painted on. In turn, the rectangle’s dimensions mimic the size of the objects represented on the surface leading to questions of illusion, perception, and modernist abstraction. Metzger will be showing at Tony Wight Gallery opening April 20th through May 25th.

Interview by Make Space

Matthew, to me your paintings have a tension which resides in the representation falling back into abstraction through the flat surface only then to have the size of the painting referring back to the represented object. Could you elaborate on this cycle the viewer may experience with your paintings?

The circularity that occurs in the perception of each painting originated in an effort to close the gap between the object of study and the representation of that object in paint. This conflation between object and painting was also a way for me to subvert what I feel as the overwhelming arbitrariness of compositional decision-making in a painting, by reducing any excess space around the object. It also helps in suspending the illusions that are at work in each painting, all-the-while adhering to the ‘criteria’ of modernist abstraction with regards to flatness and absorption.

Your paintings play with a sense of truth and reality. I cannot help but think of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in relation to your work. That, perhaps, the viewer is the prisoner chained in the cave only to stare at the wall while shadows of objects are the only thing experienced, therefore accepted as reality. Destined to never have knowledge of the real objects casting the shadow from behind us. Are your paintings shadows on the wall or are they the objects?

This is a complicated question. One that I don’t necessarily think contains a ‘blanket’ answer. So in an effort to steer away from the philosophical implications of this question in relation to Baudrillard for instance and his notion of an overarching Simulation/Simulacra that our world is composed of (which would of course perpetuate a deeper look into what a shadow is in relation to copies and doubles), I will answer in a rather literal and direct way. Shadows do not have surfaces, so my paintings are objects. However, I think of paint as a material that function like a shadow in the way a shadow’s surface is the same as what material it is laying over, and so I make use of that quality with paint in the manner with which I both think about it and deploy it.

The piece Ghost perhaps questions if the symbol for “diver down” is represented or is the symbol actually present. But maybe more interesting, and more existential, is the question, has the “diver” passed away while we float on the thin surface between life and death?

I hope that the painting itself already proposes these questions in a productive manner that the viewer must parse out through experiencing the work itself. Yet the question you bring up here regarding the relationship between representation vs. presentness I can say was an effort to continue with the engagement of what was mentioned above in your initial question regarding representation falling back into abstraction that then in turn re-presents.

How do titles function in your pieces? Are they a tool for the viewer to enter into your pieces or do they act more as a support for the concept?

The titles function merely as one of many entry points into the work. They announce the works’ lineage from my perspective as the artist, offering up a place for the viewer to begin when engaged with the work. I also consider each painting’s references (titles) neither as tools nor as crutches/supports. They are a part of the paintings themselves, and are meant to be engaged hand-in-hand with the image.

Could you talk a bit about your experience as an artist in Chicago?

It has been wonderful. Everyone I have met has been very supportive, interested, and invested in what I am doing and I could not ask for anything more.

Your paintings not only exude a sense of skill and patience, but also a carefully and methodically planned conceptual foundation. Could you shed some light on your studio practice?

I read. I think about the objects I am interested in painting rather rigorously while reading. I then build the panels once I have come to a decision about how I will make each painting. All conceptual and formal decisions are worked through prior to making each painting. Then I paint them, usually taking about a month per painting on average.

Lastly, what can we expect from your new paintings at the Tony Wight Gallery on April 20th?

Backdrop is an exhibition of a specific collection of objects, 7 paintings in total, curated into a conversation regarding the line and its presence in two endpoints in painting, from one end, the production line, and from the other end, Daniel Buren.