ARTS JOURNAL (WWW.ARTSJOURNAL.COM)
Art in the American Outback
May 13, 2008
FLUTTERINGS, FLITTERS, AND FANCIES
Matt Lively – Recent Works at Adam Cave Fine Art
By Dave Delcambre
Matt Lively creates paintings that live up to his surname. His works are never dull but instead are about the fanciful flights of everyday objects that foray off in unexpected directions. The Richmond based artist has developed a style imbued with a tremendous dose of whimsy and often a good bit of surrealism thrown into the mix for good measure. His paintings recently on view at Adam Cave Fine Art in Raleigh depicted stage set-like tableaux of domesticity: sitting parlors with groupings of striped and patterned chairs, living or bedroom like spaces with large windows and wind blown curtains, ironing boards fraternizing with high chairs, and staircases that curl around small tables like your grandma’s that held the family telephone. Ordinary household items, often of the old-timey, made-in-USA era variety, are a common thread that reappear in the canvases and visually tie this series of works together. These items are central in the paintings and are typically actual objects the artist owns- an antique film projector for instance, an old circulating fan, a rotary dial telephone- and they simultaneously lend an air of nostalgic familiarity coupled with an unsettled air of mysterious tranquility.
The paintings share much with the fundamentals of still life painting in that the main subject matter consists of carefully composed objects, attentively painted, within a supporting background. Yet in Lively’s paintings these objects are always strongly metaphorical and seem to be stand-ins for the missing occupants of these spaces. This in turn gives rise to all sorts of associations that your mind begins to draw. Has the occupant of the room just left for a second and we’re catching the precise moment when they are absent? Or are they ever really coming back? Why are their belongings blowing all around in the drafty breeze like that? Who really owns that many chairs and how can their house have so many little rooms?
Indeed for all the tendency of your mind to have a traditional Westerner’s point of view (i.e. focusing on the objects rather than the space around them) it is a more intangible element that recurs throughout that gives these works their chutzpah: namely the continual breeze that appears to be blowing across the scene. It is a constant presence whether blowing the papers out of an antique typewriter in the painting titled “Turgid Type”or loosing the dots right off the pattern of a hanging dress in “Fall in Place” leaving them tumbling down onto the floor. It is a tough task this; the painting of the wind, yet this abstruse breeze seems to me to be the true inhabitant of these spaces. It flutters and flows about, making its way around and between the objects in the rooms as handily as we viewers survey the painted subjects themselves.
A few live elements do occur to bring a sense of the living into the fray: a bird just flown out of a birdcage, a comical swarm of bees in flight mounted on curious little miniature unicycles. But one particular inanimate item that caught my attention is the recurring old fashioned plug-in electrical cord that is generally present with each painted appliance. This cord curls out and away from the fans, clothes irons, and movie projectors towards a wall socket as if to seek out some broader harmony for the objects within their surroundings. It is a tangible element of connection -a literal power source- that suffuses Lively’s work with a sense of tactile linkage. In our accelerated present, a time of wireless and unplugged everything, sometimes it takes an honest time-worn item like this to connect us back to fundamental notions of inhabitance and spaces we might call our own.
The painter, I learned from his recent interview on WUNC radio’s “The State of Things,” also has an intriguing alter ego- Matthew Lively- who is more the brooding type, preferring to work with darker, more menacing themes. Matthew is more prone to show his work in bars and pubs – his own art underworld if you will- whereas Matt’s work is more content in hanging (no pun intended) with the traditional gallery crowd. The work done under each guise rarely crosses over into the realm of the other and Lively (who I have to imagine must have to constantly refer to himself as the Artist formerly known as the other M) is perfectly ok with that. Indeed it is a modus operandi that serves him well as it has many other creative types through history from Duchamp / Rose Selavy to the multi-heteronymical Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. The overall benefit is that Lively is able to cleverly pursue multiple, simultaneous streams of thought in his work in a fruitful way. He in fact becomes his own multi-tasking editor as this working method allows him to let varying ideas and concepts be utilized (or not) in a pluralistic variety of working styles. In doing so he is able to tinge his works with various subtle shades of meaning that have the benefit of broad resonance with viewers…whatever sort of art venue they tend to frequent. The artist noted in this same interview that practically none of Matthew’s fans are likely to cross over to see the paintings done by Matt and vice versa due to the differences in venue and the type of crowd each attracts. But do yourself a favor if you get a chance; break this trend and check out what’s going on in both places. It’s well worth the trip to see what’s coming out of the flip side of this artist’s palette.