Matt Lipps “Horizon/s” at Marc Selwyn
I want to remind you about Matt Lipps’ exhibition Horizon/s at Marc Selwyn. This show feels important, and like a big one for Matt. It’s beautiful and fun, too. Horizon/s closes this weekend, Saturday, August 20.
If you click on the image above, you will see a nice large format view of the multi-photo work and can zoom in to appreciate the artist’s consideration for shape and volume and a cinematic kind of repetition. When you look you can see cut-out figures, they’re like characters in a puppet show, or maybe a shadow theater. There’s an Isamu Noguchi type of sculpture occupying the center of the left-most panel, at the far left might be Bojangles. Some historical figure (Samuel Clemens? Nathaniel Hawthorne?) has his cheekbone resting on his fist and looks out reflectively, a Greek sculpture seems to punch a mysterious black shape and the sculpture’s back is repeated in the next frame. A politician, (Richard Nixon?), reaches out to an absent crowd (expecting attention to be paid?), while near him a blackened figure of a boy or man with stark white eyes stares at us. Is it a defiant stare? Hungry with desire? Is he bored and vacant because after all he is just posing and is caught for eternity? There’s no telling. He’s posed inexplicably before an Ab Ex painting – and is one of those nearby men the artist, posing in front of his work? Or is the painting a character, too?
A man in exotic garb – a coat, pointy-ish hat and big collared boots – gestures at the left and right corners of two panels. His coat is belted at the waist and flows freely below, like a pair of wings. He’s only got a left leg, which is clear because in the in the panel to the left (where he appears at the right edge) his leg is cut off and he looks like he’s floating, and holding his own hand. The missing leg leads me to notice the posts that each of these cutouts are standing on. “Oh,” I think, to myself “these really are cutouts. They’re paper dolls – look at them standing there all together.” And I recognize that as characters they have the potential for personality.
Lipps’ clippings from Horizon magazine have the feel of long beloved objects, I can imagine him as a boy, coming across the old fashioned magazine, enjoying the formality in the prose and of the pictures and being charmed and aspirational in his response. These figures are, after all, the images that people our imagination and our cultural ideals. I might not recognize each of them, but I am able to appreciate that these have been chosen, from among many, to represent what Matthew Arnold, in a now disused turn of phrase, called “the best that has been thought and written.” So they become both idealized yet also friendly. Each brings its own story to the table and together they create multiple extensions of those tales – and fanciful new stories come along at each turn.
I have to say that these little friends also look frozen and flat, though not dead. Two-dimensional physically for sure, but something – maybe the human figures – alert the human in me to respond as though they have depth and life. I can imagine Maria Callas gliding gracefully to the left in each panel while David Park’s two men tumble off the end.
Matt Lipps’ work often feels autobiographic in nature. I may be making up the part about him looking at Horizons when he was a child but I don’t think so – it feels right. The Horizon/s project has references to childhood and learning and growing, and his other cut-outs, used in photographs of three-dimensional collages, feel like toys and friends and are expressions of Lipps’ nature. Last year I visited Matt’s studio with a LACE group. He told us of an exasperated grad school mentor asking him, after seeing a probably too ambitious and open-ended project, “What is it you want to make work about?” Matt acted out the scene for us, making fists of emphasis and looking eagerly out as though from a stage “I’m Gay! I want to make work about being Gay! I want to make work about Queers!” We all laughed, as did Matt – he was really hilarious.
And he did make queer work, in his own way, with the cutouts and with photographs, and these projects occupied the artist from 2002 through 2007 when he showed Horses at The Office in Huntington Beach. (Lipps graduated from UC Irvine in 2004) This work includes photographs and sculptures of horses and men, the cut-out figures stand behind translucent scrims, they are backlit, some with colored bulbs and some with white light – the horse’s shadows fall on the scrims and the light shows details printed – images of forest scenes from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, the press release tells the viewer. Here the work has begun to expand beyond its gay exterior – these photos, the horses and the men in them, refer to Lipps’ relationship with his father – a relationship with which I imagine Lipps has struggled, as we all do with our fathers. We struggle to find and create our own identities and by extension for Lipps, as for all queers, it is a struggle for both sides to recognize the differences of being queer.
The biography continued with Lipps’ first exhibition at Selwyn, a two person show with Asad Faulwell titled Living History II. This was part of a series of shows featuring new artists, curated by Dean Valentine and held at Marc Selwyn’s Wilshire Blvd space. Titled Home Series, for these photographs Lipps photographed interiors of his boyhood home and pasted the printed images onto foam core stage sets. The walls were about 2 1/2′ high so that in the final prints, which are 36 x 48 inches, the walls appear life size, (This is usually the case with Lipps’ photographs. It’s something about simplicity and honesty.) He took a favored print of an Ansel Adams landscape, cut out the geological features and clouds and posed these in the tableaux of his home. The photos remind me of the dreams of a young man to be an artist and also they signal that Matt Lipps the artist has come home and is claiming his space. Perhaps too, the Adams figures are a bit like the presence that is always there but that no-one mentions, a queer nature perhaps, beautiful but ungainly. He lights the background walls in Modernist shapes of color, made with light. The colored shapes remind me of book covers from intellectual books in my own childhood (see things magazine online Collection of Cover Art as well as their Pelican Books Project, 1960’s.)
But back to the reason you’re leaving the house this weekend, Horizon/s, the current show at Marc Selwyn.
With this show Lipps continues to push and pull at the practice of photography. (And of biography, as I detail above.) These are images that he’s photographing, pictures themselves, and are all surface. They cast shadows of color, telling me about the way light works in photography and making reference to the way color works in printing. The two-dimensional objects are life size in the printed photographs. How and why? Among the wonders of photography is to make huge things small, so my mind expects this shift to take place just as my mind expects all sorts of tricks from this crafty science. Verity, yes, but also lies. Lipps confuses this trope by often telling the truth.
Over the past few years in Los Angeles as elsewhere, photography has been tearing itself up and reinventing its world with new ideas, and the art is still in flux. It’s nice that Matt Lipps is here, among the best practitioners, pushing at the edges of photography and of his practice. His continued focus on the personal seems very necessary right now, as big ideas have little currency and humans are in need.
And perhaps the Big Ideas in art grow out of focused personal projects such as Matt Lipps’ focus on autobiography and the cut-outs, and Art History is these personal projects writ large by time.
All the best to you this coming weekend, enjoy driving the empty streets around town.