Too much thinking can be an obstacle for me when painting; the ‘judge’ always seems to get in the way. My connection can only be found in the moment, and I often come back to a sense of my feet on the floor while painting. During these moments some real work is possible…. As artists, we do much better trying to keep things simple. We do better to compare ourselves solely to ourselves. Self-inventory is useful, while self-condemnation is not. Without calling our whole identity into question, there are inquiries that we can fruitfully ask. How am I developing as an artist? Am I doing the work necessary for me to mature? Did I work today? Yes? Well, that’s good. Working today is what gives us currency and self-respect. There is dignity in work. —Matthew Dibble
Matthew Dibble’s large-scale abstract work has evolved over the course of many years of day-to-day dedication. The energy on his canvases is scrappy, adventurous, unapologetic, and direct. The volume of work he produces reflects his energy and determination to evolve as a painter.
Matthew Dibble in studio, Cleveland, Ohio
In the spirit of the Abstract Expressionists, Dibble is an experiential and experimental painter. When describing his inclination to use unusual materials, he notes: “I’ve taken a drop cloth right off the floor, cut it up, and fastened to the canvas. Sometimes I don’t even use a brush. I might use sticks, rags, trowels, thumbtacks and bare hands….”
His description of the process behind the creation of the large-scale painting titled Fondue Party (2013) underscores this idea:
I started by covering this canvas with white enamel house paint, then attaching newsprint. I draw into the newsprint with conte crayon and then cut the lines out with a razor blade. I painted over the lines with a sponge brush and black enamel. Then I began to pull pieces of the newsprint off and moved them around and back, working until the image made sense. This usually happens quickly.
Fondue Party, 2013, enamel and newsprint on canvas, 55 x 82 in.
Dibble’s physical stature corresponds with the scale of his work, and there is an active athleticism in the dynamic surfaces of his pieces. In the realm of both materials and method, one can see that his dual life as a painter and roofer are inevitably intertwined. During the past year, he began attaching large canvases to an easel with thumbtacks for practical reasons, prior to incorporating them into the compositions. In Clifton and Baltic (2013), enamel and charcoal are punctuated by the staccato of the tiny metal circles.
I take in new impressions all the time. For instance, I remember working on a roofing crew, mopping down hot tar. I was fascinated with the shapes that occurred with the tar floating on the brown recovery board. I see abstract relationships everywhere…
Black, floating shapes in Clifton and Baltic lead the eye in an almost circular movement, guiding the viewer through the subtleties of the many pieces of a complex and interesting puzzle. An eccentric energy in the overall piece keeps the viewer returning to the composition, wandering through inviting spaces. The highly textural nature of the surface is a byproduct of moving pieces of painted and worked paper around and reworking it.
Clifton and Baltic, 2013, enamel, charcoal, and thumbtacks on canvas, 52 x 60 in.
The same improvisational freedom reigns in Temple Hum, also painted this year. Its vertical format compresses and energizes forms similar to the more restful and languid ones in the horizontal Clifton and Baltic. Painterly surfaces merge and commune with one another—visual sensations advance and recede to create a sense of depth. Detailed areas show a history of separate painted or drawn surfaces that have been cut and unified. In these works he seems to be exploring detailed passages while working toward overall coalescence, giving birth to a fusion of forces.
Temple Hum, 2013, enamel, charcoal, and thumbtacks on canvas, 48 x 44 in.
The activity and exciting buzz in Dibble’s work is, however, not achieved out of a frenzied way of working. He characteristically sits for a period of time in his studio prior to painting, letting go of thoughts and allowing spaciousness. Although he chooses to ask questions that prompt him to push his work, he practices this inquiry without creating stumbling blocks. In his artist’s statement he describes the process of bringing himself into focus:
…I begin to let go of my old ideas, my habitual way of doing things, my grasping approach. I notice another part of myself, a deeper, quieter part. Instead of trying to make something happen, I try to allow this other voice to surface.
Private Memory (2013) is done on a large sheet of blueprint paper with enamel, charcoal, and pieces of paper. In this mixed-media painting the crisp edges of elements of Temple Hum settle into a state of blurred, organic flux. “I can’t say I understand intellectually how a painting is created. After I start, the process begins to guide me and I feel my way through,” he notes.
Private Memory, 2013, enamel, charcoal, and paper on canvas, 50 x 46 in.
A willingness to move in a natural way between styles and media (all related in language) contributes successfully to Dibble’s evolution as an artist. He creates and finds intersections between his many incarnations of work: “I’m always revisiting my past work. A thin line connects my work and life: past, present and future. But most important is the present.”
The artist also does small drawings that he has created since he was young. Drawing is the grounding force for his work, and he returns to create them when painting feels like too much for him.
He has used these evocative drawings to create a second large-scale body of work made by projecting and enlarging them on canvases. These paintings seem to serve as a compositional bridge between drawing and nonobjective pieces. Bits and pieces of the distinctive language of line emerge in the shapes and overall compositions of the abstract works. He notes: “The connection between the two works seems to be a bridge that links the mind and feeling.” The artist’s ability to deal with seeming dualities, harmonizing them in ways that are complementary, guides the evolution of his work and life.
The way I’m working right now feels very natural and the language makes sense. I was 45 years old before I began to paint well, struggling for many years to find my way. It is a mystery to me why I stayed with it, but all of my work is tied to one thing—a search for meaning.
Platypus Trio, 2013, oil, enamel, and newsprint on canvas, 80 x 80 in.
—Katherine Duncan Aimone, fine arts writer