A CONVERSATION BETWEEN
MATTHEW KING AND HEATHER LEIGH MCPHERSON
ON THE OCCASION OF PAINTINGS FROM THE 1970'S AT GRIN
Heather Leigh Mcpherson- The title of this exhibition, Paintings from the 1970s, suggests that your work is visiting us from the past. Is art a form of time travel? Why the 1970s?
Matthew King- It’s safe to say that most aspects of contemporary culture, especially consumer culture, are heavily wrapped up in a fetishization of the past. At times it becomes almost apocalyptic- like there’s no present, and no future. The current state of painting is no different, although it's not such a bad thing. I think painting is actually in a good place right now. It seems like people are starting to think about it again- especially abstract painting. The best painters right now are the ones who have an awareness of painting as a tradition, and a philosophy. They don’t get wrapped up in trying to find the “next big thing”, or some brand new way to make a painting that they think is going to save the world. It seems like formally considered painting hit a pinnacle in the 70s, and then started the race to the bottom.
HLM- Your paintings instantly conjure Frank Stella’s stripes, John McCracken’s leaning slabs, and Al Held’s alphabet paintings, among many other art historical referents. Do you invoke these artists in homage? In commentary? How do you position yourself vis-à-vis art history?
MK- Painting in particular has always referenced itself. The current dialogue of painting and art making in general is so fractured that it really boils down to what ideas you are interested in. Is it a homage or commentary? I suppose on some level it is. But I liken it to the Rolling Stones playing the blues, or to Dylan playing traditional folk songs.
HLM- You tend to work in series. In each one, you seem to perform an exhaustive exploration of one visual idea, like you’re setting two or three rules and then seeing all the different things you can make while following those rules. What about iteration compels you? What are the other defining elements of your working process?
MK- The repetition is important- especially in the smaller aluminum works. It’s like Cezanne painting Mont Sainte Victoire over and over. You develop an attachment to one idea, or one equation, and making multiples is a way of figuring it out. You have to make 100 drawings before you make your first one.
In the larger works, the building and the labor are important. If these things aren’t made by my own two hands then what’s the point? I take pride in craftsmanship- the entire process from start to finish is part of the act of painting whether or not actual paint is involved.
Nowadays you can go to the store and buy a pre-made canvas, or you can pay someone else to make the arbitrary rectangle for you. That’s not enough. There’s no consideration.
HLM- I’m interested in the physical materials you use and appropriate, from found photographs and advertisements to industrial oriented strand board. Many of your paintings strategically reveal the product information printed on the OSB, acknowledging the painting support as an active compositional participant. Your collages seem to begin with the found image, which becomes a given for the ensuing painting. Do you always take up an existing image or material as the seed for an artwork? Is appropriation a conceptual approach for you or more of a procedural stimulant?
MK- I pay close attention to the content in the materials I work with, but I’m weary of having a strictly “conceptual” approach to making anything. I’m involved in the concept of making abstract paintings- which at times seems ridiculous in its own right.
I appropriate images and materials that have overarching themes and connections. Obviously there are certain aesthetics and subjects that I’m drawn to more than others. I think there's a power to that- and a personality to it as well. There’s no intended message in these things. I’m not interested in working in some kind of preordained conceptual path- like the type of work that needs an artist statement tacked up on the wall next to it.
HLM- These paintings are pictures and objects at once, and they seem to ping-pong between speaking to the eye and speaking to the body. Their saturated color, high contrast, and disrupted patterning offer up a buffet of delicious optical action, but their compositional tricks often register in the body-- the calculated pairing of a parallelogram-shaped panel with a 20-degree stripe pattern, for example, can make a viewer feel as though her body’s listing left or right, or that the floor she stands on is out of true. That the panels lean against the wall, entering the space of the viewer, intensifies their bodily quality. Is that eye/body or picture/object dynamic a source of tension? Of energy? Is there a specific experience you’d like for viewers to have as they stand among these things?
MK- I think of paintings as physical things that occupy and take up space- objects with true spatial presence. The wall becomes the crucial element though- the defining element to painting. Whether they lean on the wall, hang on the wall or sit in front of the wall- they are all paintings. The wall creates a kind of demilitarized zone between the thing and the viewer. It’s interesting. You could nail a chair to the wall and it will demand the consideration that only a painting can. I’m interested in that space- placing an object in the room, like a chair or a piece of furniture, but maintaining a dictative control on perspective.
HEATHER LEIGH MCPHERSON
Heather Leigh McPherson is a Providence-based artist whose work deals with painting, digital expression, and contemporary models of identity. Recent solo exhibitions include A Platform for Traits at Providence College and Anytime Concept at Vox Populi in Philadelphia; in the coming months she will exhibit at Rockhurst University in Kansas City and Actual Size in Los Angeles. She has been on the full-time faculty of Providence College since 2009, where she teaches courses addressing painting, studio research, and contemporary art history. Winner of the 2015 Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Merit Fellowship in Painting, McPherson holds a bachelor's degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's from Rhode Island School of Design.