Briefly describe the work that you do.
The work I do is mixed-media based. I would lean toward calling them drawings but lately I think that I might be approaching Painting through a backdoor while it sleeps. In the past I made drawings with traditional materials and techniques -graphite on tiled paper, etc- they were then and still are remarkably tedious renderings of architectural details. However, rather than allow the image its responsibility as ‘drawing’, I’ve begun to bury it under a host of materials, I’ve distressed it, and circumvented the privilege of the image by spreading the act of drawing itself away from it and over the entire surface.
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
I really like this question. It’s slippery. I think getting an education is a lot like getting married, in that you deliberately enter into an obligation that binds you with some greater goal which will, essentially, benefit you for as long as you are alive and trying. Getting a degree is no less supposed to do this, and choosing what you go to school for and where is as important a decision as picking someone with whom to spend the rest of your life. You are installing something inside of yourself to live and grow with. And if you do indeed eventually regret it, you will not be able to erase one or the other from your mind any more than you can snip a memory from your heart.
But whereas getting engaged implies that you’ve chosen the person you want to marry, getting a degree in art-making doesn’t necessarily notarize your decision to become an artist upon the moment of graduating. I think that decision process happens long before you’re aware what an artist may or may not be, and continues to happen long after you have any idea that that might be what’s happening.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I’m from outside of Rochester, New York. A little pivot town along The Great Rust Belt. My mother, who is from Chicago, was tremendously musical and hung all over the walls dozens of cold and carved-out Andrew Wyeth prints. November looking handsome things. These starkly fortuitous and small lead prints. As a kid I thought they were dead family members, fathers gathering apples, in repose elsewhere, they were people somehow connected to my life but in their night time. I’d try to make out who they were, when all of this could have happened. I gave them lives.
I asked one day and someone told me they weren’t of anyone and right then all of this living that I had invented fell away, everything in my mind changed. I had been looking at art, at painting, but fixed it still as something else, I had trained my mind on some other quality that wasn’t there. After that, when I got to making my own art, it was as if I was recovering that experience, retracing it. It was like I was remembering to forget that those people had lived at all.
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
Getting back to what I was saying earlier about drawing, I think the act of making drawings, insofar as drawing is bridging what it is we are seeing with the way we see the world, is central to my work, it’s the lynch-pin. And there, at this lynch-pin, drawing arises an impasse that lives between the memory of something and the perception of it. My work uses drawing to point at this crisis, at this opposition. Memory, in my work, both collective and personal, is a function upon which it is increasingly problematic to appeal. Furthermore, the thing about the materials I use is that material has no inborn genre, there is nothing anymore latent in oil paint than there is in spackle to keep either from eventually becoming something else. The images I borrow from, these architectural ornaments, are prepackaged with a library of assumptions, but so is the spackle. In this way, where the two meet on the surface, as referents, they confound each other, and their effect is both spatial and social.
Architecture, for me, has always had this bizarre feeling to it, you cannot really put your finger on where the architecture starts and the building stops. The two make up a built environment, they are insolubly confected of one another, and the differences between them become much more ambient the more you try to separate them. There is a skin, of course, a screen, that the building hauls into behavioral space and there you know that you are looking at architecture, it effects you and changes the air. But regardless, it is a collection of intelligible forms, and so it is also reproducible. And often it is reproduced, at least as ornament. This has profound consequences. Again, the ornament I use in my own work refers to whatever building I took it from, (you don’t really have to know which building that might be, I think this kind of ornament is weirdly familiar everywhere) it continues to signal the building, and since it is generally Revivalist ornament, it also signals an event. And although the building is no longer visible, nor the event fresh, it is still very present, if only in our memory. With my new work I’ve gotten into conversation with this action of mechanical reproducibility, I’ve adopted it and applied it to my own work. And with that I’ve created some strange problems.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
I like that, I like that Chuck Close said that. Who knows what he could have been getting at there. I’ve only seen a few of his paintings in person, there is an incredible sadness to them, they are overwhelmingly physical things because of it, however, there’s also a kind of light-hearted quality to the spectacle of their scale. And for someone who doesn’t believe in being inspired his work is certainly focused on articulating such a plaintive notion urgently. Chuck Close was making gorgeously painted, yet often deadpan paintings of peoples faces at a time when an era of human history and art making was allegedly ending and like any era ending, it there opened up into a psychological gulf.
There really is nothing funnier than unhappiness.
I think what motivates me most in my studio process is the last work I made, and building from that piece toward another. I’ve tried to incorporate into my work materials that are otherwise better suited for some other task, so that, like collage, the work ends up with components that are recognizably out of context. Things like painters tarp, or laundry detergent, or wood putty. Unmistakable stuff that we encounter almost daly. However here, in my work, as recontextualized materials, they become a kind of building device that brings up all kinds of tectonic problems that, moreover, overlap with their previous functions. For me this is an inherently architectural move, and something endlessly challenging.
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
Claire Sherman lately, and Allison Schulnik. I think there’s some obvious parallels to Kiefer. There is a certain immutable celebrity to people like William Kentridge and Judy Pfaff and Antonio Lopez Garcia, and that’s fine with me, I’ll take them.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
When I’m not making art I’m a barista, and an adjunct professor of art. At least currently. I walk a lot, I walk everywhere. It’s how I’m in love with the world. I also sing in a noise punk band, so there’s that also.
Matthew Woodward was born in Rochester New York in 1981. He was educated at the School of the Art institute of Chicago (BFA 05) and the New York Academy of Art (MFA 07). He is a Professor of Art at Dominican University and has given numerous lectures throughout the United States,
Currently, Woodward lives and works in Chicago. He is represented at Linda Warren
Projects. Exhibitions at The Comfort Station and Columbia College are scheduled for later this year in October.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.