By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, Feb. 2018
These images are volatile, set in atmospheres built with great effort from layers of charcoal, pastel, and spray paint on paper and/or canvas. They grab you will a holler -- a luminous color or a strident pose, then pull you in with whispers -- hidden figures, otherworldly apparitions, army tanks. She paints and draws, sprays and scrapes, smudges, collages, and repeats, actualizing a dense surface and depth of field that both embodies and depicts the mutual entanglement and psychic unsettlement of today’s world.
Matushevitz speaks eloquently about the ways in which mixed media allows her access to an enormously varied array of visual techniques, the better to respond in kind to the vertiginous paradoxes of existence. From the problems and promises of globalization and the threats to environmental resources in the 21st century, to the most eternal, ages-old strivings of the human heart, in ways large and small we are daily asked to reconcile the conundrums of the life we live. Her art is in some ways nothing more or less than her valiant attempts to do so. In her studio, she is all of us.
“My intent is to evoke action over indifference,” she says, unable to remain a silent witness to world events. Certain works are titled in a way that makes that this goal explicit: Do You See Me?, Get Up, Don’t Just Sit There, Crossing the Line, Guns Guns Guns. The overall title of her solo exhibition at Gallery 825, “Conundrum” speaks to the context of a consciousness at a crossroads, and the unshakeable feeling that we are collectively at a decision point, a set circumstances in which choices must be made and inaction constitutes a choice, too. Think of your fellow man. Not in my backyard. Sending thoughts and prayers. Good fences make good neighbors. All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall.
Art historian Donald Kuspit wrote of Matushevitz’s vision in 2000, “She often uses a faux naive style to underline the visceral truth,” describing her style as “abstract sublime.” And indeed her hybrid scenes of urban and esoteric chaos evince a dark whimsy, with bright shadows punctuated by pops of color that move both the eye and the emotional dial. Her balance of penumbra and palette is upbeat, she sometimes teases herself that it’s “disco lighting” and while this gives one set of emotional cues, her content at the same time grows dire. The truth is that though the overall impact of her work reads as a variation on Abstract Expressionism, it is in fact made up of dense, misty fields of specific individual details and narrative iconography -- helicopters, cars, flowers, airplanes, tents, fences, work boots, scrawled texts, suns and stars, watchful angels, lost souls, soldiers and smartphones.
Libby Lumpkin wrote about Matushevitz in 2006, “She brings the picture of her life into being by inventively mixing a wide variety of motifs and styles derived from late 19th- and early 20th-century European traditions of Symbolist and Expressionist art, discriminately combining them to create her own form of expressive narratives.” Indeed her creative influences are even more eclectic than that, culled from science fiction, folktales and myths, history, literature, movies, television, and popular culture, Baroque composition and classical chiaroscuro, and even Jean-Michel Basquiat for his elevation of the urgency of street vernacular into the experiential art historical conversation.
The increasingly large size of her canvas works, including the 17-foot long epic saga of Drone Attack, operates at a luxurious architectural scale, with some figures at just about life-size, and plenty of room for the pictorial space to expand in all directions, both within the painting and outward into the room. By installing them unstretched, hanging with grommets like the tarps and tents they also often depict, they begin to seem less like murals and more like windows into parallel dimensions, black mirrors. Matushevtiz’s once and future background as an installation artist comes into play as well, informing her sense of space even when she’s rendering in two dimensions. Increasingly of late she’s been working with three-dimensionality again, not only within the painting’s surface, but with objects extending from them into the exhibition space -- flowers, fencing, tents, bricks -- as on paper her notable materiality meets her particular gestural stylization.
One recurring motif in the newest work has been a certain brick-wall in imagery and texture. As a visual device it anchors the pictorial space in a specific setting and scale, while at the same time organizing a quasi-abstract field against which to hang the scenes in her passions plays, an armature with art historical precedent and modern cleverness. Her penchant to festoon the pictures with spray-painted graffiti, impasto flowers, and stenciled helicopters plays well against such backdrops. Likewise her use of fencing and paved roads serve to unite her compositions both narratively and optically. As with all the work, her struggle to balance individual and collective experiences is tethered to her own recollections of both. Perspective is exceptionally operational in her work, in both senses of its meaning, as a visual tool and a psychic observational perch.
In Keep Out and Drone Attack, in Endings and Beginnings, the epic sagas are embodied in the panoramic spaces, the conflation of planes of topography and existence, so that the living and the dead are shown side-by-side, veils between levels of existence having been removed, while all manner of signified experiences are being added. Like a fractal set, the patterns that emerge speak to naturally ordered phenomena as well as to deliberate choices, authorship, agency, detachment, fate, fear, and the insidious nuances of othering. Besides her compositional elements of forced perspective, wild economies of scale, feral lines, exploding and telescoping color, and tropes of fence and wall, the forcefulness of her emotional gestural style is echoed in the body language, facial expressions, and clothing of her figures, who are androgynous for the most part, ageless, careworn, intense. Like all fables these have a moral. It’s that we could do better if we wanted to. We know it, but here we are. It’s a real conundrum. WM
Randi Matushevitz: CONUNDRUM
www.laaa.org/Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825
825 La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood
March 17 - April 20, 2018
Opening Reception: Saturday, March 17, 6-9pm
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.
She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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