The following interview was held in conjunction with the artist's exhibition, 'Brilliant Corners' with the Dishman Art Museum located at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. The interview consisted of written response and spoken conversation held in the artist's Bushwick, Brooklyn studio.
|Matthew Neil Gehring in his Bushwick, Brooklyn studio|
Caleb De Jong: Where are you from and how has that environment shape your sensibilities?
Matthew Neil Gehring: I’m from the Midwest. I grew up in Evansville, Indiana, which is about five hours due south of Chicago. I have a certain sense of space and a sense of how things are near or far that have certainly influenced my sensibilities. Growing up in the Midwest has had an impact on my sense of space; I think I could say that I have not ever been able to shake a sense of geometry that comes from the Midwest. I think there are things about the architecture of the Midwest that sticks with you and influences your sense of composition. I think the architecture of farmland, silos, grain bins, industrial buildings that dot the farmland have marked my sensibilities. The aerial views of those spaces are amazing and have influenced my understanding of composition.
|The artist's Bushwick, Brooklyn studio|
For example, one small piece from this body of work was exhibited at the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art in New Harmony, Indiana. This is a cool place. It’s near my hometown and is the site of a former utopian society, the Harmonists. It’s a very small town that is in large part a historic preservation site. It is a place with a mystical feeling. There are two amazing pieces of architecture there; the Athenaeum by Richard Meier and the Roofless Church by Phillip Johnson, an architect I love. Johnson's building is a big part of the mystical feeling of the place. The building's footprint is large, maybe as large as city block, and is a roofless, open-air structure that is a non-denominational gathering place. It connects the earth and sky in a palpable way. I love spending time there.
CD How did this current exhibition come about?
MNG Megan Young, the director of the Dishman Art Museum at Lamar University invited me to do the show. This is a new body of work. It is the first time the work has been shown as a whole, and the first showing for the large paintings. I’ve included six new sculptures and we are building a large 13-foot tall color monolith on site. I am very excited about this. Also included are 72 paintings and drawings, all from the last two years.
CD How does this new body of work compare to your previous work?
MNG Years ago I remember leaving graduate school with the exhilarating sensation that came from realizing a post-studio ideal. I was free to make my work anywhere, at any time, with anything, or with nothing. I worked with ideas and with the things at hand. I designed projects that I could execute during airplane flights and recorded statements on a cassette recorder while driving. I altered things in their environments and documented them. I began photographing all of my accidents; a spilled a drink, a dropped pencil, moved an object. These works were all very conceptual, and ephemeral and in retrospect very much drawn from the external and set in deliberate opposition to my internal feeling or natural interests. I realized also that the formal tendencies I had been working to eschew (I had come to accept the "irrelevancy" of formalism) were ever-present. Most of the work from this time is geometric, planar (horizontal), and rich in color. About two years ago I began to really think about color, what color is and what it can mean. During this time I began to read Goethe's Theory of Color, which is a long series of experiments the author does with color. I was thinking about my former interest in my previous work, work that was sculptural and conceptual in nature and that dealt with notions of absence and how these notions could be captured in color. Presently I am thinking about existence and non-existence and the intersection of form and formlessness. Reading Goethe helped me realize the deeply subjective nature of color. This work is really the result of that investigation. When I moved to New York six years ago, my creative process took a shift. I went from having access to vast facilities to working in a small room. I also moved from being a more project and process based artist to developing a studio painting practice.
CD What materials do you use in your paintings, drawings and sculptures?
MNG I mainly use linen or cotton duck canvas on strainer stretcher bars, or linen glued onto panel. Sometimes I'll paint directly onto a prepared wood support panel. I make small works with gouache painted on paper that is mounted on wood panels, and drawings with ink and gouache on paper.
CD How does this work express your particular set of values and sensibilities as an artist?
MNG I think that there is a great freedom within a focused practice and the parameters of my natural tendencies, tendencies that have been with me since my earliest work. In a sense this body of work has similarities to artwork I made in college. The painter Thornton Willis said in an interview two things that intrigued me, recently. He said that you really only ever make one painting, but for various reasons you need to keep working on new supports. I’m paraphrasing. He also said that the profound thing about being an artist is that the art you create stands as your assertion of what you think art should be. I like these ideas. There is slow growth here. And there is a real stake in it. There are works that I made in undergrad in the early nineties that share a lot of the formal sensibilities of this work. This is interesting for me to think about. In many ways, I began as a student with a primary interest in formal work, and I have loved reductive abstract painting and sculpture for as long as I can remember. The new paintings here in Beaumont are formal and they are focused in an extended investigation of a small number of variables and relationships. I am interested in making relatively small moves, where in the past I felt compelled to make significant shifts, large conceptual declarations, from piece to piece.
CD What compels you to make paintings?
MNG Painting is the least like something else in the visual world. I think that painting offers a format for working which is distinctly different and apart from everything that is not art. It does not share similarity with other aspects of life that say, video or sculpture does. Video shares its form with entertainment, YouTube, documentary, etc. Sculpture is an object similar to other objects. It relates to them, and competes with them in certain spatial ways. Sometimes there is even a merger – “functional sculpture, functional art”. Sculpture's essential nature, form, is intimately connected to architecture’s essential nature – space. For me, painting, especially the kinds of painting that I make, are the most autonomous things that can be made. It connects to history, but painting's history specifically, and it connects to the spirit of the time in which it was made. Painting demands, and I hope my painting demands, rapt still attention.
CD Why do you create art specifically rather than post YouTube videos or work in entertainment?
MNG Art has a specific and poetic means of establishing a position in relationship to society. Artists establish their own sets of values. For me that’s what is at the core of this. As an artist I value Improvisation and engagement in the moment, quality over quantity, poetry over the literal, beauty over the practical, creativity over consumption, inquiry over entertainment, the long journey, the process, the experiment, the question over the answer. Art is the only thing worth getting out of bed for. I have never in my life seriously entertained doing anything else.
Matthew Neil Gehring
Oil on linen
72 x 84 inches2013
Matthew Neil Gehring
And the Vital Vigor
Stood Its Ground
Oil on linen90 x 78