Enacting ShorthandApril 10th, 2013
What is Matthew Chambers doing to painting?
In his fourth solo show in NYC, he exhibits 62 (or so I counted) upright paintings, tightly tiled edge to edge in two rows. One is made from overlaid strips of wood, and another is made from old T-shirts; all are 4×8 feet, standard size for building materials, like plywood. Hundreds of smaller paintings, prints, and drawings are bundled into books of canvas and paper. He seems to be a rapacious devourer of both abstraction and representation, but more of a fast eater than a relishing gourmand. That is, the show moves fast.
His quotidian interests include pets, food, liquor, ads, other art and art shows, himself, his materials, jokes, and fun. He claims to paint without wearing his glasses, which offers a theory to rival the possibility that he paints naively on purpose. Or it’s a nod to Renoir: When Renoir tried new glasses to correct his vision, he exclaimed: Bon Dieu, je vois comme Bouguereau! (“Good God, I see like Bouguereau!”).
Chambers says that each painting is a frame in a visual story that can be re-written infinite times. TO think of a painting as a “frame” invokes his former occupation as an M.F.A. student in filmmaking.
“Painted with remorseless gusto and installed cheek to jowl,” wrote Roberta Smith in her review of his 2009 show. “Robust and grim: painterly with an overload of Conceptual attitude.” But this show seems to bring all-inclusive range. The paintings, drawings, and prints are variously funny (his self-portrait in floating hearts), clever (a pineapple forming from a diagonal grid), tender (a baseball snug in a glove), and rad (an abstract pattern that looks like snakeskin) but sometimes kind of self-satisfied and insider (ads for other shows and/at the Mandrake bar). We have to acknowledge, given what’s in front of us, Chambers’ intentional message of constant production and vast output. But what about reservation, rumination, and reflection? Does everything make it out of the studio? Is each painting meant to have a disposable quality?
What I took away from this show of uniformly scaled paintings is a leveling sensibility. All the paintings begin and end the same size, they sample eclectic image banks, and nothing is too silly, not even a skateboarding banana. But if everything is valid, then Matthew Chambers can’t lose. Isn’t painting at its best when it’s risky?