Matt Dibble: Up on the Roof
By Douglas Max Utter
A painting’s subject matter and formal qualities lodge in the reasonable parts of the brain, but more subtle surface features also exude significance, impressing the subconscious. Meaning derives, also, from the motions of repeated gestures or marks, and the way that successive layers of substance and attention suggest a play of dreamlike equivalences. Extremes of opacity and transparency link up through a range of visual clues, and for a moment the eye is surprised and the world is refreshed.
Matt Dibble is an American artist who has installed and maintained roofs for several decades. Because he is a very good painter, his day job matters – as everything matters, if life is to be realized as an aesthetic whole. It may well be that Dibble’s different kinds of labor overlap, and in some sense complete one other. For one thing, a roof must accommodate stress and changing needs, so it encodes many kinds of knowledge -- an understanding of seasons and materials, of comfort and security and needs of the body and mind. Then there is the strangeness of roofing, which parallels the oddness of painting. To make a work that resists the changing microclimates of mind and spirit, an artist must enter his own memory and senses from a different angle, climb up and pry parts away, repair and recover the gaps between things. He must balance and risk, and in the end it may happen that he sees his surroundings from a surprising, slightly inhuman angle.
Dibble divides his efforts even further; he produces two kinds of painting. His brushy abstract gestures rush into the paint like a gust of wind. Sometimes they lose themselves in explosions of color and texture, but more often there is a solution to the chaos – a sense of a new creative order hanging like smoke over shattered visions. In another mood, Dibble also invents calmly restrained, transparent-seeming works. In these the spare outlines of mysterious figures float in a monochromatic dimension. Around them are blueprint-like depictions of utilitarian objects and generic, domestic rooms. The painter shows us an arch, a filing cabinet, an air compressor, and next to them hybrid creatures that might have been borrowed from a medieval bestiary – a minotaur’s cousin, a sort of selkie, and others. These characters seem emptied of their stories and therefore toothless, yet a flickering in the background, like distant lightening, suggests there is meaning, and power, here also. Embedded in the mundane circuitry of everyday understanding, the energies of myth persist.
Thus Dibble empties and fills his canvases, revealing the joists of older worlds, or plumbing and modeling the thick, brief, worldly flesh that paint can so vividly evoke. His more overtly expressive works are doubly rooted in a passion for material experience, and in art history. He eulogizes, and exercises, and exorcizes the dry sinews and still vital spirits of Willem DeKooning, Arshile Gorky, and other mid twentieth century artists, often finding brand new energies. The schematic paintings, on the other hand, visit the design componants, the code, of an older world, like fragments of the hidden script that underwrite each human mind. Together Dibble’s seemingly opposed bodies of work – dealing with the thickness of incarnation, or the limpid purity of geometry and myth, add up to a vision seen from a high and unusual place. Few painters have so broad or sharp or strange a view.