hellequinharlequinclown, 2014

Selected works from my solo exhibition at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.

Shalini Sanjay Patel in conversation with Matthew Carter

Matthew Carter’s newest series of paintings are a reminder that traditions of figuration and abstraction—though often treated as market trends or movements supplanting one another throughout modern and postmodern art history—are traditions of simultaneity. This is most eloquently manifested within Carter’s consistent use of the harlequin pattern, which refers to the garb but can be read as an abstraction or a stand-in for the figure.

The word harlequin can be traced back to Alichino, the devil in Dante’s Inferno and later hellequin, the medieval French word for ‘demon.’ The harlequin we associate with representations of the court jester, “trickster,” and comedic servant within Renaissance and post-Renaissance culture can be attributed to Tristan Martinelli’s early enactment and appropriation of the zanni, a debased Venetian caricature of the rural peasant class who later became a stock character in French passion plays. Though it is unclear whether the zanni wore patchwork or rhombus and triangle-patterned garb, it should be noted that similar textiles are also associated with nomadic workers, vagabonds, and wanderers from other cultures who also existed in class-based marginality and precarity.

Many of the paintings in hellequinharlequinclown are limited by their own mode of construction: if built any larger, the already-warped frames would need cross-supports in order to function at all. These skeletal structures—built by cutting sections of old stretcher bars and fastening them the way one might sew together pieces of old fabric—are stretched with a transparent raw linen resembling a death shroud. Although the painterly logic of the image must reckon and wrestle with this irregular, almost abject physical form, the harlequin pattern-as-surface is also deployed as a conceptual framework for Carter’s entire body of work. Evidence of this is the artist’s assertion that “pattern, as well as the defunctness of the thin profile bars, is embedded within the DNA of each painting.”

In “Harlequin Parade” and “Untitled” Carter presents us with the duality of gesture and grid, which operate as affective and structural devices. In both of these works, painterly gestures reminiscent of clowns mark the “reverse” (wall-facing) sides of the canvasses and are partially revealed by a pattern of painted and glitter-coated rhombi across the surface facing the viewer. The resulting composite form is at once sensual and coy, garish and artificial. Glitter, notorious form being difficult to handle and contain, is a material constraint in and of itself, but affixes the work with immediate connotations of costuming and drag. “A material that is permanently smiling,” Glitter has a history of marking the body not dissimilar to the way in which the pattern marked the jester. Carter writes of the material capturing the viewer’s gaze and the linen allowing him to look past it: “it implies that there is always something behind it…the linen is the skin and the glitter is the cosmetic mask applied to the skin.”

Many representations of clowns depict the performer sitting in front of a mirror applying whiteface; this pre-performing, preparatory ritual occurring offstage is performative in and of itself. In the way that earlier harlequin masks and costumes gave license for the audience to gaze at the figure, the mirror provides the clown visual access to the spectator without a direct confrontation. While actual mirrors are used in only a few of the paintings in the exhibition, the reflectiveness of the glitter and transparency of the linen similarly allow the viewer to “look through” many of the works, catching only glimpses of the clown-like gestures and iconography that are never explicitly revealed. Once again, the material makeup of the pieces leads to their abstraction; the images’ mobility and their proclivity towards advancing and receding from view parallels the temporality of the harlequin, hellequin and clown as identities within civic and performing culture.

In “Uncanny Valley” the artist uses pattern as a kind of dysfunctional grid, riffing on the way that Renaissance painters used a grid to develop perspectival drawing. The pattern, which exists as non-illusionistic flat space is contrasted and overlaid with illusionistic two-point perspective, resulting in an architectural-spatial configuration that evokes an emotional continuum ranging from familiar to unfamiliar. The title of the work is taken from roboticist Masahiro Mori’s application of Freud’s theory of the uncanny to the field of robotics. Mori’s theory suggests that despite a human test subject’s increased empathy towards robotic features that become increasingly anthropomorphic, the subject will at some point experience a dip, or “valley” in her trajectory, in which feelings of philia turn to phobia. The clown and the image of the clown also cycle from being icons of kitsch familiarity to uncertainty (distrust), to phobia, to philia and back again. One of the noted uncanny aspects of the clown is the fixed smile, which paradoxically is a mark of permanence (the grin of a skull). According to the artist, the filled portions of the grid are akin to a smile; the harlequin pattern thus becomes another way of “translating” this expression and its associations of death.

“Acid Bath” is Carter’s response to an album cover by metal band, Acid Bath, which appropriates a painting by serial killer John Wayne Gacy. “Acid Bath” is comprised of one of Carter’s more minimally constructed patterns developed from a grid of ghostlike silver and yellow line work. The upper left half of Acid Bath contains four seemingly isolated diamonds filled in with the red, blue, green and yellow of the circus. The rhombi of the bottom right half of the canvas features muted green and white forms which serve as the platform for Carter’s glitter appropriation of the anamorphic skull from Hans Holbein the Younger’s “The Ambassadors.” Carter’s painting allows for the philia of death and the postmodern affinity towards the killer clown popularized within the 20th century to be filtered through Holbein’s distorted form. The glitter inserts a contemporary grotesqueness into the skull, but only as a reminder of what was already there. Similarly, Gacy’s notorious distortion of the clown’s public image did not so much “tarnish” an innocent icon as regurgitate its more sinister origins. Completing the cycle, Acid Bath’s celebration of Gacy’s spectacle returns the phobia to the philia.

Harlequins, 2013

The multi layered paintings in this series mimic the ad-hoc patchwork persona of the harlequin, a character with roots as a servant of the devil, charged with ushering the damned to Hell. Like layers of consciousness the layers of the paintings reveal a childhood fascination with sadistic violence and repressed sexual energy, while the layers closest to the viewer reveal more social and universal categories of collective indulgence. In various cultures, ritual clowns are needed as a Dionysian element, a safety valve through which the community can give symbolic satisfaction to the antisocial tendencies. As an adolescent, through the act of drawing, clowns became blank subjects for the projection of taboos and alternative identities. From Modernist abstractions to childhood drawings, different representation of clowns are layered and combined with forbidden desires and personas. Sinister yet playful, reflective and transparent materials voice, conceal and fragment moments of a shadow self, both present and past.

Freeway Studies Blog
blogs.otis.edu/freewaystudies/inside-the-quad/matt-carter-inglewood/

Ghost Adventures, 2013

"Five Stacks of Death, Dread and Darkness" was featured in the 2013 MexiCali Biennial at the Vincent Price Art Museum.

"Ninety Acres of Property Filled With a Sinister Past" was featured in the group exhibitions, Séance at Coagula Curatorial and The Road at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.

These works are literal manifestations of quotes by Zak Bagans, a
supernatural investigator and reality television personality on the
Travel Channel show Ghost Adventures. The premise of this show is to
prove the existence of ghosts through a series of overnight
investigations in supposedly haunted places. These sites, minimal and
abandoned become arenas for maximalist projections of paranoia,
hostility and fantasy. Bagans and his team proceed to patronize and
bully ghosts, with their own over-the-top showmanship. Their macho
performance and narration fill in the blanks for the viewer and
suggest the possibility of something tangible in the pursuit of the paranormal.
Bagans’s militaristic and authoritarian style allows viewers to feel a
shared sense of victory over death and the unknown. His language is a
flamboyant yet hostile response to the site and it’s entrapped
history. I use Bagans’s hyperbole as a template for producing material
form, making his language concrete

Shortcuts, 2011

Pound Puppies, 2012

Project Statement:

The title of this series of sculptures, Pound Puppies, is as much a literal reference to their dog house shape and pathetic animalistic qualities, as it is a working title for the process of assemblage and archiving that comprise these mutt-like objects. Lacking pedigree, the Pound Puppy’s scale, materiality, and foundation is both dictated by and pulled from my old collection of discarded drawings, paintings, and research material. From forgotten High School art projects, to meticulously rendered portraits in glitter, the sculpture’s mutant nature is composed of quotes and moments from my own history with projects never fully formed. The margins of my own artistic practice and development are emphasized as a new history is invented and voiced through a physical layering of learning curves, past and present.

For A Good Time Call, 2010

Selected works from my solo exhibition “For a Good Time Call” at the Neon Gallery, California State University Long Beach, 2010.

Press Release: written by Eammon Fox, Director-Neon Gallery and Press

The Neon Gallery is pleased to present “For A Good Time Call” a new installation by Matthew Carter. With a classic Foucaultian touch, Carter has employed painting and sculpture to create an environment reminiscent of the archetypal public restroom stall. Merging the white cube of the gallery space with the even whiter cube of the public restroom, the repressed gaze of one context becomes the voyeuristic joy of the other. Mining the well of familiar lurid contemporary plot lines from Craigslist personal ads to US Senatorial sex scandals- Carter has focused his attention on certain art historical heavy weights. An intense personal interest ultimately develops into a fractured but sincere recasting of personality into a subjective and slippery narrative.

Insincere Utopias, 2010

Selected works from my MFA Thesis Exhibition “Insincere Utopias” at the Bolsky Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, 2010.

Press Release: written by Adam Pena

The Bolsky Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design presents Insincere Utopias by Mathew Carter. Insincere Utopias is a solo exhibition that explores the constant bombardment of media against the idle framework of painting. Carter utilizes various material and methods, from amateur landscape techniques to cult film stills. His use of material transgresses past terms of non-traditional genre painting yet remains affiliated to the historical functions of the medium. Oil rendering, tape, crayons, glitter, and photo montages ring harmoniously dissonant from each peculiar structure to the next.  Iconography of fetishistic barnyard scenes to Jagger reeling in his reverence (remarkably consistent of a particular fascist) then contrast and explode onto multiple color fields. Each addition of re-appropriated imagery antagonizes the context and travels through (and resists) the dominant ideologies of picture making where metaphors are left to be reassessed.  

Glitter Nazis, 2006

Selected works from my solo exhibition “Glitter Nazi” at the Mix Gallery, Carterville IL, 2005. 

Project Statement:

What is comforting and what is true are often two very different things. Inspired by Hannah Arendt’s “Banality of Evil”, social psychology experiments such as the Milgram and Stanford Prison Experiments sought to explain the horrors of the Holocaust. Revealing the dark side of human nature, these experiments clearly demonstrate authority’s power over morals and the sadistic capabilities of ordinary people. Alerting us to the dangers within, these outcomes make clear the brutal potential of human nature. 

My art is both an exploration of this reality, and through its acknowledgement, a gesture of defiance. Working in portraiture, the indexical and historical nature of the photograph is repackaged through layers of glitter. Beautiful yet cheap, the inherit dichotomy of glitter exposes the duality of human nature. Blurring the lines between endorsement and condemnation, this juxtaposition of image and material confronts the viewer with moral grayness. Alluding to the monsters within, each piece is a dilemma, raising more questions than answers.

hellequinharlequinclown, 2014

Selected works from my solo exhibition at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.

Shalini Sanjay Patel in conversation with Matthew Carter

Matthew Carter’s newest series of paintings are a reminder that traditions of figuration and abstraction—though often treated as market trends or movements supplanting one another throughout modern and postmodern art history—are traditions of simultaneity. This is most eloquently manifested within Carter’s consistent use of the harlequin pattern, which refers to the garb but can be read as an abstraction or a stand-in for the figure.

The word harlequin can be traced back to Alichino, the devil in Dante’s Inferno and later hellequin, the medieval French word for ‘demon.’ The harlequin we associate with representations of the court jester, “trickster,” and comedic servant within Renaissance and post-Renaissance culture can be attributed to Tristan Martinelli’s early enactment and appropriation of the zanni, a debased Venetian caricature of the rural peasant class who later became a stock character in French passion plays. Though it is unclear whether the zanni wore patchwork or rhombus and triangle-patterned garb, it should be noted that similar textiles are also associated with nomadic workers, vagabonds, and wanderers from other cultures who also existed in class-based marginality and precarity.

Many of the paintings in hellequinharlequinclown are limited by their own mode of construction: if built any larger, the already-warped frames would need cross-supports in order to function at all. These skeletal structures—built by cutting sections of old stretcher bars and fastening them the way one might sew together pieces of old fabric—are stretched with a transparent raw linen resembling a death shroud. Although the painterly logic of the image must reckon and wrestle with this irregular, almost abject physical form, the harlequin pattern-as-surface is also deployed as a conceptual framework for Carter’s entire body of work. Evidence of this is the artist’s assertion that “pattern, as well as the defunctness of the thin profile bars, is embedded within the DNA of each painting.”

In “Harlequin Parade” and “Untitled” Carter presents us with the duality of gesture and grid, which operate as affective and structural devices. In both of these works, painterly gestures reminiscent of clowns mark the “reverse” (wall-facing) sides of the canvasses and are partially revealed by a pattern of painted and glitter-coated rhombi across the surface facing the viewer. The resulting composite form is at once sensual and coy, garish and artificial. Glitter, notorious form being difficult to handle and contain, is a material constraint in and of itself, but affixes the work with immediate connotations of costuming and drag. “A material that is permanently smiling,” Glitter has a history of marking the body not dissimilar to the way in which the pattern marked the jester. Carter writes of the material capturing the viewer’s gaze and the linen allowing him to look past it: “it implies that there is always something behind it…the linen is the skin and the glitter is the cosmetic mask applied to the skin.”

Many representations of clowns depict the performer sitting in front of a mirror applying whiteface; this pre-performing, preparatory ritual occurring offstage is performative in and of itself. In the way that earlier harlequin masks and costumes gave license for the audience to gaze at the figure, the mirror provides the clown visual access to the spectator without a direct confrontation. While actual mirrors are used in only a few of the paintings in the exhibition, the reflectiveness of the glitter and transparency of the linen similarly allow the viewer to “look through” many of the works, catching only glimpses of the clown-like gestures and iconography that are never explicitly revealed. Once again, the material makeup of the pieces leads to their abstraction; the images’ mobility and their proclivity towards advancing and receding from view parallels the temporality of the harlequin, hellequin and clown as identities within civic and performing culture.

In “Uncanny Valley” the artist uses pattern as a kind of dysfunctional grid, riffing on the way that Renaissance painters used a grid to develop perspectival drawing. The pattern, which exists as non-illusionistic flat space is contrasted and overlaid with illusionistic two-point perspective, resulting in an architectural-spatial configuration that evokes an emotional continuum ranging from familiar to unfamiliar. The title of the work is taken from roboticist Masahiro Mori’s application of Freud’s theory of the uncanny to the field of robotics. Mori’s theory suggests that despite a human test subject’s increased empathy towards robotic features that become increasingly anthropomorphic, the subject will at some point experience a dip, or “valley” in her trajectory, in which feelings of philia turn to phobia. The clown and the image of the clown also cycle from being icons of kitsch familiarity to uncertainty (distrust), to phobia, to philia and back again. One of the noted uncanny aspects of the clown is the fixed smile, which paradoxically is a mark of permanence (the grin of a skull). According to the artist, the filled portions of the grid are akin to a smile; the harlequin pattern thus becomes another way of “translating” this expression and its associations of death.

“Acid Bath” is Carter’s response to an album cover by metal band, Acid Bath, which appropriates a painting by serial killer John Wayne Gacy. “Acid Bath” is comprised of one of Carter’s more minimally constructed patterns developed from a grid of ghostlike silver and yellow line work. The upper left half of Acid Bath contains four seemingly isolated diamonds filled in with the red, blue, green and yellow of the circus. The rhombi of the bottom right half of the canvas features muted green and white forms which serve as the platform for Carter’s glitter appropriation of the anamorphic skull from Hans Holbein the Younger’s “The Ambassadors.” Carter’s painting allows for the philia of death and the postmodern affinity towards the killer clown popularized within the 20th century to be filtered through Holbein’s distorted form. The glitter inserts a contemporary grotesqueness into the skull, but only as a reminder of what was already there. Similarly, Gacy’s notorious distortion of the clown’s public image did not so much “tarnish” an innocent icon as regurgitate its more sinister origins. Completing the cycle, Acid Bath’s celebration of Gacy’s spectacle returns the phobia to the philia.

Harlequins, 2013

The multi layered paintings in this series mimic the ad-hoc patchwork persona of the harlequin, a character with roots as a servant of the devil, charged with ushering the damned to Hell. Like layers of consciousness the layers of the paintings reveal a childhood fascination with sadistic violence and repressed sexual energy, while the layers closest to the viewer reveal more social and universal categories of collective indulgence. In various cultures, ritual clowns are needed as a Dionysian element, a safety valve through which the community can give symbolic satisfaction to the antisocial tendencies. As an adolescent, through the act of drawing, clowns became blank subjects for the projection of taboos and alternative identities. From Modernist abstractions to childhood drawings, different representation of clowns are layered and combined with forbidden desires and personas. Sinister yet playful, reflective and transparent materials voice, conceal and fragment moments of a shadow self, both present and past.

Freeway Studies Blog
blogs.otis.edu/freewaystudies/inside-the-quad/matt-carter-inglewood/

Ghost Adventures, 2013

"Five Stacks of Death, Dread and Darkness" was featured in the 2013 MexiCali Biennial at the Vincent Price Art Museum.

"Ninety Acres of Property Filled With a Sinister Past" was featured in the group exhibitions, Séance at Coagula Curatorial and The Road at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.

These works are literal manifestations of quotes by Zak Bagans, a
supernatural investigator and reality television personality on the
Travel Channel show Ghost Adventures. The premise of this show is to
prove the existence of ghosts through a series of overnight
investigations in supposedly haunted places. These sites, minimal and
abandoned become arenas for maximalist projections of paranoia,
hostility and fantasy. Bagans and his team proceed to patronize and
bully ghosts, with their own over-the-top showmanship. Their macho
performance and narration fill in the blanks for the viewer and
suggest the possibility of something tangible in the pursuit of the paranormal.
Bagans’s militaristic and authoritarian style allows viewers to feel a
shared sense of victory over death and the unknown. His language is a
flamboyant yet hostile response to the site and it’s entrapped
history. I use Bagans’s hyperbole as a template for producing material
form, making his language concrete

Shortcuts, 2011

Pound Puppies, 2012

Project Statement:

The title of this series of sculptures, Pound Puppies, is as much a literal reference to their dog house shape and pathetic animalistic qualities, as it is a working title for the process of assemblage and archiving that comprise these mutt-like objects. Lacking pedigree, the Pound Puppy’s scale, materiality, and foundation is both dictated by and pulled from my old collection of discarded drawings, paintings, and research material. From forgotten High School art projects, to meticulously rendered portraits in glitter, the sculpture’s mutant nature is composed of quotes and moments from my own history with projects never fully formed. The margins of my own artistic practice and development are emphasized as a new history is invented and voiced through a physical layering of learning curves, past and present.

For A Good Time Call, 2010

Selected works from my solo exhibition “For a Good Time Call” at the Neon Gallery, California State University Long Beach, 2010.

Press Release: written by Eammon Fox, Director-Neon Gallery and Press

The Neon Gallery is pleased to present “For A Good Time Call” a new installation by Matthew Carter. With a classic Foucaultian touch, Carter has employed painting and sculpture to create an environment reminiscent of the archetypal public restroom stall. Merging the white cube of the gallery space with the even whiter cube of the public restroom, the repressed gaze of one context becomes the voyeuristic joy of the other. Mining the well of familiar lurid contemporary plot lines from Craigslist personal ads to US Senatorial sex scandals- Carter has focused his attention on certain art historical heavy weights. An intense personal interest ultimately develops into a fractured but sincere recasting of personality into a subjective and slippery narrative.

Insincere Utopias, 2010

Selected works from my MFA Thesis Exhibition “Insincere Utopias” at the Bolsky Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, 2010.

Press Release: written by Adam Pena

The Bolsky Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design presents Insincere Utopias by Mathew Carter. Insincere Utopias is a solo exhibition that explores the constant bombardment of media against the idle framework of painting. Carter utilizes various material and methods, from amateur landscape techniques to cult film stills. His use of material transgresses past terms of non-traditional genre painting yet remains affiliated to the historical functions of the medium. Oil rendering, tape, crayons, glitter, and photo montages ring harmoniously dissonant from each peculiar structure to the next.  Iconography of fetishistic barnyard scenes to Jagger reeling in his reverence (remarkably consistent of a particular fascist) then contrast and explode onto multiple color fields. Each addition of re-appropriated imagery antagonizes the context and travels through (and resists) the dominant ideologies of picture making where metaphors are left to be reassessed.  

Glitter Nazis, 2006

Selected works from my solo exhibition “Glitter Nazi” at the Mix Gallery, Carterville IL, 2005. 

Project Statement:

What is comforting and what is true are often two very different things. Inspired by Hannah Arendt’s “Banality of Evil”, social psychology experiments such as the Milgram and Stanford Prison Experiments sought to explain the horrors of the Holocaust. Revealing the dark side of human nature, these experiments clearly demonstrate authority’s power over morals and the sadistic capabilities of ordinary people. Alerting us to the dangers within, these outcomes make clear the brutal potential of human nature. 

My art is both an exploration of this reality, and through its acknowledgement, a gesture of defiance. Working in portraiture, the indexical and historical nature of the photograph is repackaged through layers of glitter. Beautiful yet cheap, the inherit dichotomy of glitter exposes the duality of human nature. Blurring the lines between endorsement and condemnation, this juxtaposition of image and material confronts the viewer with moral grayness. Alluding to the monsters within, each piece is a dilemma, raising more questions than answers.

About:

Matthew Carter is an artist living in Los Angeles, CA.

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