Voodoo Ray vs Zombie Modernism
McAvoy, Emil. (2016). Matt Henry: Long Division publication. New Plymouth: Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.
Available as a PDF download here.
From the series 16:9, Sydney Non Objective, 4 – 26 February 2012
From the series 16:9, Sydney Non Objective, 4 – 26 February 2012
Phillips, Bruce E. (2012, Feb 1). Painting Obsolescence [exhibition text]
The desire of innovation and consumerism is an insatiable drive that finds its justification in both market trends and the hunger for technological advancement. Our consumption of products is sold to us through the promise of attaining symbolic cultural status, inclusion or enriched lifestyle. Yet the acquisition of such intangible outcomes are always fleeting, for every season or year we witness a new product or fashion that redefines these socio-cultural codes. In this system the new and refined are celebrated and the old and redundant are shunned. This is no more apparent than in the recent developments in television design. In its present incarnation the flat screen television presents a veritable intersection between art and design and the language of minimalist painting. Hanging on a wall with the monochromatic sublime of an Ad Reinhardt and the gleam of a Donald Judd, there is no question that the minimalism of the 1960s onwards has influenced the design of these objects. However, rather than attempting to attain a refined gestalt or some sort of ideal Platonic form, the drive for this design aesthetic is to be an adornment of sophistication and technological innovation.
By re-absorbing modernist and minimalist influences from mass-produced products, Matt Henry participates in complex systems of cultural and commercial value. In this process, a distinction is made between that which is appropriated for symbolic value and that which is designed with understanding. This distinction recognises the hand-in-hand role that artists and designers have had in the development of modernism and minimalism, but also considers the shift in ideological significance due to mass production. Modernist and minimalist influences found in consumer products, more often than not, are used as a veneer in which symbolic cultural capital is invested rather than formal enquiry.
It is in this conflict of aesthetic motivation, between minimalist art and industrial design, that Henry's practice intercedes. Taking interest in various forms, from humble architectural fixtures and domestic appliance design, Henry creates hyper-real abstract paintings. His chosen forms which range from ovens, hi-fi systems, fire alarms and circuit board casing, are critically considered for their reductive integrity.
Henry transforms these familiar objects into the ideological 'purity' of hard-edge modernist abstraction using only the materials conventionally associated with painting. These paintings are not only to be regarded as autonomous objects. They also engage with space in a similar way to early minimalism. Through considered placement, Henry groups paintings to act in site-specific capacities by intervening into the given architectonic logic of a space, often exposing inherent imperfections or idiosyncrasies of the space.
The inquiry into the tainted ideologies of modernism and minimalism is now well familiar, due to the parody by post-minimalist artists of the late 1990s such as Damien Hirst and Tom Friedman. In comparison, Henry's approach is more akin to those artists whose enquiries came to see the obvious sympathy between artistic ideology and the commercial. Key influences include New Zealand artists such as Billy Apple and Julian Dashper, whose practices added greatly to the commercial and institutional impact on painting. More closely aligned to Henry in generation and approach is the work of Francis Baudevin, whose paintings 'faithfully replicate [at large-scale] abstract geometric motifs culled from industrial packaging,' primarily pharmaceutical goods.1 Akin to Baudevin's approach, Henry's work investigates the conversion of aesthetic value as it undergoes semiotic translation between art, design and consumerism. This position is empathetic 'towards the cultural product of modernity' and neutralises any attempt at idealistic mystery behind the abstract.2
The 16:9 series encapsulates many of these nuances. Since 2008, Henry has expanded the series to investigate the ability to create believable mimesis as well as unpacking the design and engineering logic of these desired consumer products. In these works great investigation into limited materials has taken place. Custom machined frame mouldings, bulletproof glass, methods of mounting canvas stretchers and various hues and pigments have been experimented with to achieve the illusion of depth and sharp geometry that are synonymous with industrial manufacturing. These investigations have revealed interesting anomalies of the technology and the material conventions of painting. Of this, the development and invention of different picture aspect ratios used in the film and television industry deserve mention. In abstract form Henry draws attention to the visual impact of these arbitrary formats within the frame of a television's native ratio. The black banding or cropping that occurs on real televisions is highlighted in crisp contrast between incandescent yellows or greens and carefully chosen dark grey. A wry gesture that associates the compositional restraint of colour and shape in the history of abstract painting and a brash technological foible that most would overlook.
Most importantly the 16:9 series, considered in its entirety, explores the notion of obsolescence both in terms of redundancy but also progress and desire. Indeed, the trend for flat screen televisions is a textbook example of consumerism. The 16:9 series charts this insatiable consumerist drive through the development of the flat screen television - from the bulky plasma monitor and home theatre system to the latest slim-line LED screen. However, as an artistic enquiry it is intentionally problematic, as it is only as relevant as Henry's ability to convincingly replicate and riff off the new technological advancements within the convention of painting. In this pursuit the artist will always be painting in the shadow of obsolescence determined by market trends and the unsustainable desire for the new.
Bruce E. Phillips
1 Stroun, Fabrice. "Francis Baudevin." Frieze Magazine. Issue 75, May 2003.
2 Nickas, Bob. Painting Abstraction: New Elements in Abstract Painting abstraction, p184. New York: Phaidon Press Ltd, 2009.
Southside Arts Festival: Matt Henry – User Friendly
Atticus, Todd. (2011, Nov 1). Southside Arts Festival: Matt Henry – User Friendly [Web log]. Retrieved from http://spindlemagazine.com/2011/11/from-southside-arts-festival%E2%80%A8%E2%80%A8-matt-henry-user-friendly/
The Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts is positioned rather inconspicuously behind an ugly collection of shops and businesses in the Pakaranga region of Manukau. From its many purposes and aims Te Tuhi is most notable for its robust and exciting exhibitions programme. A quick dive into its archive of previous exhibitions reveals a wealth of diverse and challenging art. It is a veritable diamond in the rough.
The gallery is currently hosting an exhibition of new works by Auckland-based artist Matt Henry. User Friendly is an installation of nine paintings across three gallery spaces.
Henry divides and sites his work so as to make bold interventions to the space. Playing with the conventions of exhibition display and art production, his series mimics and references modern consumable items. The unconventional positioning of the canvases further distorts their roles and the objects – at the whim of considerations such as height and juxtaposition – morph into their domestic doppelgängers before your eyes. A canvas mimicking the 16:9 ratio of a flat screen television is hung identically to its functional counterparts; ditto the long Untitled horizontal 600 x 1800 (Titanium White) as a radiator (the lack of romance in Henry’s titling gloriously enhances the effect).
But there is more than mere optical-trickery at work here. The paintings are sleek, attractive objects in their own right. Henry creates smooth surface textures through a meticulous application of acrylic paint. In doing so he references minimalist aesthetics as well as imbuing these signifiers with a resonating visual appeal.
The three boxy rooms that the exhibition spans offer a perfect opportunity for comparative and complementary groupings. In a similar manner to the methodology of artist Roni Horn (successive repetitions, alterations and arrangements), Henry has utilised the space to perform a series of “about-faces”. Through a recalibration of similar forms, he ekes out a sense of immutability in the space itself and hints at the potentiality inherent in the construct of arrangement.
Henry’s is an understated and intelligent commentary. One that is drawn as much to reasoning about the phenomenon of design as it is to art production itself. It may seems contradictory to suggest that such strong visual statements offer subtleties, but the deliberated manner of their dissemination and their collective muteness ground them.
I had an opportunity earlier today to talk to Matt about his work.
Todd Atticus: Your practice blurs the line between painting and sculpture. What arena do you see your work inhabiting?
Matt Henry: I don’t really look at my practice from a discipline area, just as the work references – or blurs – the histories of art and design. I believe this is primarily because much of my interest lies outside of the art historical, somewhere in the semiotics of certain forms and their attendant knowledge or values in a contemporary context.
TA: For me, the objects both fuse and betray any linkage between what they gesture toward (domestic consumable goods, furniture etc.) and what they are in themselves (art objects). They behave separate of art historical principles that would otherwise engulf their purpose. Do you see the gallery space itself playing a role in the experience of these objects?
MH: The gallery can perhaps be seen as a stage where the objects I elude to (the consumable item, appliance) might betray themselves (or their utility) and exist in a purely aesthetic form. The gallery asks no more of them. This makes the gallery (as well as the discipline of painting) interesting as a point about which the emphasis shifts from function toward form and language.
TA: I find the conventions of the gallery space provide an opportunity to assess under different terms. This removal from the hubris of reality suspends objects in a vacuum, allowing them to be contemplated as separate. Under this form of aesthetic scrutiny and transformation, your paintings display their real-life counterparts as foreign bodies; sleek, unassuming, yet obstinately alluring as to be almost fetishist in quality.
MH: Minimalism in design can be quite brutal. It can also be contemplative and meditative. The appeal of minimalism to the average marketing person might be to play up to notions of exclusivity or even propriety. It can be very conservative in a funny way. The form and language of modernism within the vernacular of consumer culture and within art presents a transgression of sorts.
TA: The gallery space – itself a minimalist venture – can singularly cleanse and repel. By removing all signals of authorship or individuality, the effect can seem either universal or alien.
In a way, the pieces in User Friendly have this universal quality: they are shorthand for accepted entities. How mindful are you of those other universals that you are exhibiting alongside? Plug sockets? Light switches? They seem to enter the fray under similar terms.
MH: There is a universalism in the notion – a wall is a wall is a wall – and a lot of interior design and architecture are themselves exercises in minimalism. You could argue that plugs, sockets and fittings are detritus; annoying distractions. I’ve always accepted them as part of the gallery, often playing-off of them compositionally.
Occasionally I’ve photographed work in my home. The effect of this context on the reading of an object is exaggerated, sometimes delightful. I’ve been apprehensive at times to give some work over to the gallery. Sometimes those light switches and fittings give it back.
The ‘character’ of a space is something I’m quick to exploit, and most galleries have it in abundance. I have to admit I prefer more intimate galleries with volumes that approximate domestic or office spaces.
TA: You are sharing the gallery space with another work at Te Tehi: Lisa Crowley’s The Reading Hall. It is a complimenting arrangement: Crowley’s films make enquiries to architectural character, systems of display and gently comment about its subject through the very material of the work’s construction [she captures the movements and intricacies of a 1950’s linotype machine using a 16mm film and documents the contemporary use of Russia’s Vyborg Library in a digital format].
MH: It’s an interesting pairing. They both appear to consider language and processes that are, to some extent, obsolete.
The very physical, ‘slow’ and contemplative process of my painting, as well as playing with history, is intrinsic to the creative process and to the thinking involved. Very much at odds with the speed of contemporary media.
Matt Henry: User Friendly at Te Tehi Centre for the Arts is open until 6th November 2011.
Image courtesy of the artist and Starkwhite, Auckland
Artforum.com Critics’ Picks
Matt Henry: Starkwhite, 510 Karangahape Road, April 16 – May 16
Matt Henry: Starkwhite, 510 Karangahape Road, April 16 – May 16
Wilson, Michael. (2009, May 6). Artforum.com Critics’ Picks [Web log], Retrieved from http://artforum.com/archive/id=22738
Making elegant use of two adjacent mirror-image rooms, Matt Henry’s “Doppelgänger” presents a tidy cluster of new paintings and objects that riff on the visual similarity of contemporary high-tech product design and Judd-era sculptural Minimalism. In his first solo exhibition at the K Road staple, the native New Zealander blurs function into form, abstracting home-cinema gear to produce a set of mute postmodern totems with the hermetic gleam of John McCracken slabs. Placing three small MDF and Formica-veneer boxes on the floor of one room and a larger black block in the other, the young artist completes this knowingly spare installation with a pair of monochrome canvases, one nearly black and tinted with zinc white, the other a high-key electric green, glazed and framed in dark wood.
In his 2007 outing at the Fishbowl in New Plymouth, Henry exploited that gallery’s architectural peculiarity (originally a garage, it was converted into a sealed storefront via the addition of a street-facing glass wall) to amplify his project’s blend of bold geometry with wry domestic references. At Starkwhite, he exercises a similar strategy, responding to the interior’s polished serenity with a tongue-in-cheek homage to the culture of high-def surround sound. “Doppelgänger” sees the artist poke subtle fun at consumerist status anxiety by aligning high-street commodities with more rarefied goods. He also contributes a minor but engaging—and seamlessly realized—subset to the history of aesthetic cross-pollination between the formal and the functional, further teasing us with the fact that we can’t always tell one from the other.
Realistic Sculptures or Abstract Paintings? - Matt Henry: Contraflow,STARKWHITE, Auckland, 21 June - 17 July 2010
Hurrell, John. (2010, 24 June). Realistic Sculptures or Abstract Paintings? [Web log].
Retrieved from http://eyecontactsite.com/2010/06/realistic-sculptures-or-abstract-paintings
In his first show in Starkwhite's big downstairs gallery Matt Henry continues his characteristic teasing out of similarities between minimalist abstraction and high-tech heating or home entertainment audio/visual equipment. This new precise installation tightly references various aspects of the Starkwhite room whilst also referring to fashionably elegant consumerist products that are coincidentally similar to the works of Judd, Baer or McCracken.
To do this - through meticulous positioning and the works' measurements - he alludes to certain features of the room's architecture and its trimmings, like skirting boards, power-points, a fire alarm and the thin grouting lines that traverse the floor. The paintings in some ways are like furniture, having specially designed features reminiscent of the hinged flaps of dining tables that can extend their horizontal planar surface. Some of the square works have differently coloured, lower rectangular strips.
Also the sides of the linen stretchers, their thicknesses, and the way the paint curves over the edges of the front plane, are crucial elements. So too are the negative spaces between the works, they often being repeated modules based on a reiterated square canvas unit. This sets up a pulse that hints that the entire room wall surface and ceiling is a gridded matrix.
All Henry's painted (or unpainted) linen panels are obsessively crafted, from the fastidious construction of the stretcher and the way it is fastened to the gallery wall, to the very controlled covering of the surface with acrylic or size. In fact there is a double-binding hermeticism about the project that hints no other space might ever be appropriate to contain these almost holy objects, not only through its different proportions but also through its lesser purity and inevitably inadequate pristine cleanliness. Something perhaps impossible to attain.
The title Contraflow also alludes to purity, a Modernist going against the Postmodernist grain, a determined but futile counter-charge using realism and a consumer narrative as a ploy.
Upstairs in one of the small Starkwhite galleries overlooking K' Rd, is a suite of eight much more chromatically buoyant Henry works based on cassette shapes. These are hung in a row and don't refer to the room at all - apart from the whiteness of its wall - only their own proportions, sides and vertical thicknesses. They use cleverly isolated strips of vibrant colour to seduce, but they are combined with nuanced internal placement and a collectively driving finger-snapping rhythm.
These gorgeous pocket-sized paintings, and the urbane installation downstairs, are extremely accomplished projects. In my view, easily the best shows on in Auckland right now.
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From the series 16:9