First I see a hand lettered sign on a sheet of paper:
“Went inside / 2 pool… / please follow / ( :”
Following this direction, I find inside paintings on paper organized on the gallery walls in an open grid pattern, using small works to define the grid lines, and with large-scale works placed in the voids; these larger paintings are portraits: full body representations of couples, tiny dogs in bathing suits, a horse, and possibly a friend called “George.” (Even the paintings that are not traditional portraits feel like portraits.) The effect on my senses is something like a terrace or pavilion with views to the seashore, or to a pool – or to memory. (Curiously, I taste salt in the air and I see the glittering sunshine off ocean waves. Am I in the artist’s imagination, or mine?)
Among the small paintings (and what look to be printed or stamped artworks) I see a lion face that brings to mind a similar lion that Matt Wardell showed several years ago; the earlier lion’s face was lively and full of expression, and it has stayed with me. Wardell’s painting style is childlike in a way that is considered, rather than affected. The lines, the shapes he uses, and ultimately, the expressions that he gives his characters communicate beyond the simplicity of a childish hand, however; for his subject matter is adult and even universal. Wardell speaks in these works of death and friendship and of love, his characters show self-pride and humor and have carnal and other earthly desires. I picture in my mind vintage book illustrations and caricatures and comics.
I wonder about the significance of the lion to the artist, and looking around, I notice other repetitions within the installation; the lion appears more than once, and in several guises, as do several text paintings, and the figures of the couples are repeated, though with accessory and costume variations that make them individuals.
I find myself reading from the paintings, “Loose Chickens”, “a friend is dying”, “My head is big and I have no ankles”, I see one artwork with lettering painted backwards. I think I may be reading too much: I should be looking. Then I think not, for the two are related here. Wardell’s language brings up images, and his scatter-shot stream of consciousness with words and with images sparks my imagination; my feeling is one of amusement and melancholy, the way a patter of healthy rain makes a house feel both more and less empty. (Ha. In the sparkling light of the waves, everything I see fascinates me. This is like the patter of rain, this is what I feel here. I knew the beach connection would help me.)
Matt Wardell uses a peculiar dot-shaped brush stroke to apply paint and to organize space in these paintings, and also, I think the dots serve as decoration. These ‘dots’ gives to his paintings an all-over-ness, everything is offered all at the same level of surface and detail; Wardell’s figures seem unified, interior space merging with the external world. He ‘captures’ his figures by outlining them. The all-over quality spreads to the three walls of the gallery, as the smaller works feature small repeating images that work like the brushstrokes.
I begin to think about the various containing skins in this room – gallery walls, outlines, my own skin: as I define myself against the outside world by the sac that carries my cells, and by the even more porous sac that holds my intellectual and emotional self, so Matt Wardell’s exhibition, in all its diffusion, could represent a social body; the works mingle in my mind and become some thing the way experiences of acquaintance and understanding accrue over time and by many means.
The open fourth wall of the gallery presents a rich opportunity for an artist; once closed off with drywall, it has recently been opened up to expose the scars of a long ago fire, and a descending stairwell. The space is physically removed from the main gallery, and it is psychologically charged as well; there is darkness and quiet and, as one moves below the surface of the floor… but I risk sinking into metaphor, and hammering down what ought to be an experiential riddle. Suffice it to say, the space is cool and dark and interesting.
For his part, Wardell imagines the space somewhat like an outhouse, or a peculiar den. A tiger rules over all, old-fashioned Oriental rugs are placed in the rafters. At the base of the stairs hangs a painting of a many-breasted creature surrounded with little friends engaging in sexual union, there is a corn cob suspended at eye-level from the rafters above; this descent and cellar-level installation completes the body that is suggested in the gallery above, and it might be a cloaca for Wardell’s imagined world.
Through January 19, 2013 at Commonwealth and Council http://www.commonwealthandcouncil.com/exhibitions/hair_on_my_tongue/press.html