At the Cherry and Martin opening for Matt Connors' new exhibit, "Dromedary Resting," I overheard someone in the gallery say, “Look! The artist didn’t finish this painting. And, he didn’t even stretch that one.” The visitor was not completely wrong, but he was looking at the work from a point of view that these works were merely paintings and not part of an ongoing dialogue. I was reminded of the interview/press release I had just read for the Joe Bradley and Chris Martin exhibition currently on view at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. In it Bradley stated about painting, “It's not like an end game sort of thing where this is throwing down
the gauntlet. You know, it is open-ended.”
The two paintings to which the flippant visitor was referring were Trapdoor, 2010 and Flaggot, 2009. Trapdoor is a beguiling work featuring thin, unprimed muslin stretched over stretcher bars that have been painted – the underlying color barely glowing through the surface of the tight muslin. A thin, hand-painted frame outlines the work. It takes a great deal of effort to find the artist’s labor in the work, and thus is easily dismissed. In the deceptive simplicity of Trapdoor, Connors makes a move, and the casual observer easily falls prey.
Connors plays a slightly different game in Flaggot. A found mahogany frame is reduced to serving as a support for a loosely constructed abstract painting. A burnt umber circle hovers over a red and teal stained raw canvas while a rigidly painted turquoise rectangle serves as a frame around this abstraction. While this earlier piece is not as successful as Trapdoor, both pictures work to question where the boundaries currently are when thinking about painting and especially how the materiality of the work serves to make the viewer aware of the physicality of space – be it the gallery where the works are viewed or the studio where the works are presumably made.
Number and letterforms from earlier works seem to be missing, unless you consider the geometric blocks in several pieces as reductive stand-ins for linguistic symbols. Perhaps, the nearest one comes to the written structure of language in the new work – aside from the wily titles themselves – is in two frottage ‘paintings’ Trial Mark, 2009 and Uncut, 2010. Using the physical environment of the studio, Connors rubs various marks onto canvas as if to copy the rarely revealed space’s hidden language. In these newer works, traces of the materiality of the studio are brought into plain view and present a satisfying addition to his previous body of work.
While many artists try to finish the game in each painting they create, in subtle gestures Connors' work is about give and take. Within it we find an open invitation to participate in the dialogue - be it by the viewer or a fellow artist. In addition to focusing attention on the physical spaces that paintings occupy, the works presented in "Dromedary Resting" are really paintings about the components of painting, the act of painting (in the abstract), the space where that action takes place and the language surrounding all of this. While that self-referentiality may not prove interesting enough to some, it confirms that, as Bradley has alluded, the open-ended game of painting continues. Whether this satisfies or confounds depends on how actively one wishes to participate in the dialogue.
- Calvin Phelps
All images courtesy the artist and Cherry and Martin. Trialmark, 2009. Uncut, 2010. Trapdoor, 2010.