I recently visited Mathew in his studio in Bow to find out more about his practice and interest in taking part in the Bow Porcelain project.
Mathew has a studio through Bow Arts in part of the converted old Nunnery. I was surprised to be going up a wide, heavy dark wood staircase with striped carved banasters and through a door with a stone arch through into his spacious studio.
Mathew creates paintings of ceramic figures and I asked him about where ideas for his work come from.
Mathew finds inspiration by looking online, in collections and galleries and museums for something that might interest him, hoping to discover something that might make a good painting.
I liked the fact he said he doesn’t always know directly what it is he is interested in, and selects images instinctively. He often finds out afterwards why he was drawn to them. If he ever looks for something specific it can be frustrating as he has an idea in his head which he can’t find in reality. However, it is this looking process which is interesting and can lead to other unexpected ideas.
‘..things come out later. Sometimes it is years later I discover why I did a painting.’
What draws Mathew to an image might be a highlight, or the misplacement of paint on an object- a specific detail of its appearance. He described how this links with Roland Barthes’ concept of Punctum– where a spec or a bruise on a photograph can be the thing which draws you in, or makes the image speak to you.
I asked Mathew to describe his making process. Mathew’s paintings are all oil on canvas, and first of all he will prepare and prime the canvas ready to paint. Then he begins a process he describes as ‘making nothing into something, filling in blank space.’
It was fascinating and surprising learning about the laborious process Mathew undertakes in the production of his paintings, and how this process directly reflects how he feels about the ceramic figurines he paints.
Mathew is interested in the fact he is repainting the painted object. The ceramic objects he depicts were painted quickly and mass produced and then Mathew paints images of them slowly and laboriously. He adds craft to these objects.
Mathew goes through a mapping or transcribing process from an image to his painting. This begins with breaking down a chosen image into sections of colour. To me it looks a bit like a topographic map (where lines are drawn to link all the points in a landscape of the same height). Mathew told me that when he was a child he remembers reading a book called The Sketchbook Crime [written by Helen Morgan, illustrated by Jim Russell]. It describes the story of a boy who breaks a bone in an accident and has to stay at home. He decides to start drawing the view from his room. Eventually his sketchbook is used as evidence by the police as he has documented a crime taking place accross the street from his window. In a similar way Mathew thinks of the way he uses art as some kind of crime scene- where you have clues embedded in the surface of the painting. This technique of mapping and translating creates visual forensics of an object, and through painting in this way the viewer is drawn in to examine every detail.
When he talks about his subject matter Mathew is intrigued by the idealism- beauty, perfection attempted in these ceramic objects. He also likes the link between something being fragile and the fragility of people. He sees the ceramic objects as models. They are something he is working with rather than ceramics itself.
One of the reasons Mathew was drawn to take part in the project because he is intrigued by themes of dark histories and violence found in ceramic objects, particularly Americana. Part of trying to understand the objects he is drawn to is to look at them and remake them in this very intense way. He explained that Black Americana and black collectables are racist objects that are based on stereotypes and demonstrate a form of superior thinking. They were were made by white people for a white audience. Through his painting he raises questions about what the meaning of these objects were at the time, and what it means to make a painting of it now.
This is the first time Mathew has made work for a specific project, and despite having worked from a studio in Bow for eight years the first time he has looked at Bow Porcelain. Having looked at it in preparation for the project there are things that resound and interest him.
For this project Mathew is making a small painting of an image of a Bow Porcelain figurine of a bonneted lady. Mathew was drawn to this image through the highlights on the buttons of her blouse, and the large bow around her neck. He likes the playfulness of the concept of a Bow Porcelain figure with a bow around it’s neck being shown in Bow.