MATTHEW ALLEN: WHERE YOU GO I GO TOOEXHIBITION CATALOGUE
EXHIBITION CATALOGUE (SMART DEVICE)
To be in continual ecstasy over nature shows poverty of the imagination
Like nature, the impression of Matthew Allen’s latest body of work is more potent than any written description. Writing about a subject that references Clifford Still and Mark Rothko, those great myth makers of the 1950’s who sought to rid their art of superfluous rhetoric in favour of a ‘truth’ believing that the image could have non-verbal meanings locked within it, seems contradictory. But considering the word and paint as important forms of expression in equal measure, I will write about the sensory experience of viewing Allen’s work within the contemporary space. For it is Allen’s use of borders and space that propel these extraordinary works away from their art historical moorings and into the contemporary sphere.
The dialogue of figurative realism gives way to random forms in Allen’s new work; active and still brushwork, and intense projecting or receding colour and light play on the surface of the canvas. The dense opacity of paint retreats in places to allow a combination of precision and chance that is both finished and fleeting. The inclusion of the border, a seemingly innocent gesture of framing, marks a departure for Allen, whose previous field paintings reach the edges of the canvas. The colour border reminds us that these are paintings, which follow a formal methodology, catching you before you disappear into the soft play of colour reaching in and out on the surface of the canvas. The carefully measured painted colour borders pull you back to the reality of the material, allowing the works to declare themselves as paintings. This is a construct after all. And Allen plays with this tension reminding us that the viewer is as much a participant in the realization of these works, as the light that catches the paint causing them to shimmer and dance.
Apart from the border there is very little artifice going on, the material is simply finding its way. Paint is poured on one side then allowed to flow and drip giving way to the persuasion of gravity. When viewed together in the space the surfaces appear restless, flowing in and out of focus and depth giving the illusion of movement. These are moving paintings, ‘like they all should be’ argues Allen. However instead of a boundless journey into the psychology of colour, Allen brings his work back to the viewer experience by capturing the movement, harnessing it, framing it with a border, then framing again within the gallery space itself. Contradictions are at play here as the artist is in silent conversation with his idols. This is now. We are here. The space and the material are what matter.
Orange and Blue and Black and Blue loosely break free from the others with their lack of construct and borders. A seductive orange flow of paint falls over a bright blue background, and is given the freedom to find its final composition without the persuasive hand of the artist. In Black and Blue, a veil of blue midway down the painting begins its journey south, offering a cool respite to a seemingly limitless black reflective surface. To this effect the flow of colours – orange, blue, black – are given equal importance, the interplay of colours are in perfect union. Perhaps Orange and Blue and Black and Blue are Allen’s rogues, an insight into the artists mind as he works with his medium.
A painting is defined by the moment that it reveals itself to me visually as an immersive space. I deem a work valid when there is an interplay between the tactility of surface and the depth of light, colour and space.
To this end Allen’s search for ways that his art might compose itself through chance is revealed, liberating creativity from rational thought. Just as the colour field painters of half a century earlier were for flat forms in an attempt to destroy illusion, Allen’s search for truth through materiality is an attempt to reveal beauty. Can we use the word beauty? ‘These paintings are allowed to be beautiful’, insists Allen, ‘the material is just doing its thing. It’s raw. There is not a whole lot of artifice going on. When I think of ideas of beauty I think of Japanese pottery where it’s coming from materiality rather than skill’.
In Allen’s smaller works nuance and subtleties unfold through repetition and seriality. The undercoat becomes the border itself as the glaze is painted over to fill the negative space. The recurring formal structure and use of reverberation are strategies to evolve subtleties. Ji Ji, the smallest work, stands alone, a small but loud rebel amongst its peers. Brazen, almost fluorescent, orange frames a bronze field of colour, punctuating the gallery space like a wild card.
Allen believes that painting can operate as a metaphor for the relationship between things verifiable and things unreachable: the border vs the transcendence of colour, or the use of repetition in search of chance. And although these processes consume the artist in process, the final viewing experience resolves these tensions, as it becomes clear that the hopelessness of attaining perfection has been embraced. Where the colour field painters of the 1950’s and 60’s used ‘myth’ as a response to a cultural crisis in Post World War II American imperialism, Allen’s paintings offer an antidote to a detached and complex world - a place for repose. The differentiating edges, proportions, and layering techniques, reflect a tenacious and somewhat spiritual journey, inviting a metaphysical interpretation and an attempt to explain the fundamental nature of being and the world.
Nina Stromqvist, 2013