Sometimes Comes the Mother, Sometimes the Wolf
Munch Gallery, New York
April 25th thru May 31st
By SARAH ELISE HALL, May 2014
Featuring just under 20 works, Matt Bahen’s new exhibition Sometimes Comes the Mother, Sometimes the Wolf explores an integral connection between image and surface. From a distance Bahen’s paintings are mysterious fragments of lonely environments, but when experienced up close the images break down into rough impasto abstractions; both the content and the paint handling are raw and intense, and are evocative of the way memory functions, presenting a flash of imagery that upon closer inspection falls apart.
The image itself, which is derived from photography, is clearly important for Bahen. He directs our gaze towards gritty, hollowed out places such as abandoned interiors, damp and muddy plots of forest or a seemingly unmanned freight ship en route to an unknown destination. There is a hint of agitation in each image that suggests some form of action occurred just outside the picture frame only seconds before the picture was taken; a flock of birds suddenly takes flight, dogs are pitted against each other ready to fight, a bond fire burns in an otherwise empty scene. The paintings are haunted by a human presence even though they are devoid of people, and the viewer is left waiting for someone or something to return, experiencing the elastic quality of time and a sense of duration with each image.
These paintings, with their muted palette, transcend place; they read as metaphors for larger themes of loneliness, loss and mortality. Bahen’s experience working with the homeless for many years and his personal encounters with loss inform his subject matter. His exploration is refreshingly honest and unabashed, as is his straight forward use of paint. Photography may be Bahen’s original source, but the way he translates the visual information through paint reveals that his work is as much about the love of the material and what it can do as anything else.
The viewer experiences this love when standing in close proximity to the paintings. Up close the images become distorted by the physicality of the paint and we are forced to let go of illusionistic space, instead experiencing a surface that is activated by a storm of brush strokes. As our gaze rests on the surface of the image rather than penetrating into it, we interact with the paint as though it were another skin. It is tactile and perceived physically like an object. This flipping back and forth between object and illusionistic space is captivating. It compels the viewer to actively look at the work, changing positions, moving closer and then further away in order to satisfy both experiences. The palette seems to flip back and forth as well. Colors that appeared dead from a distance become vibrant and full when viewed up close.
And so, Bahen plays with our perception. Images are turned inside out and colors breath hot and cold. All the while he confronts us with tough yet beautiful glimpses of agitation, despair and hope.
Matt Bahen’s exhibition Sometimes Comes the Mother, Sometimes the Wolf is on view at Munch Gallery April 25th thru May 31st, 2014
Sarah Elise Hall is a New York-based artist and freelance writer. She contributes regularly to the online magazine Art-Rated. Recent art projects include exhibitions with Janinebean Gallery (Berlin), the Drabinsky Gallery (Toronto), MUSE CPMI Center for Photography and the Moving Image (New York), and Islip Art Museum, (Islip, NY). Her work has been written about in the National Post (Toronto), Toronto Star, the Huffington Post and included in Michael Petry’s book, Nature Morte, published by Thames & Hudson Press.view all articles from this author