ARK an Interview with Matt Bahen
March 15th, 2015
Matt Bahen’s recent installation of painting and sculpture at Le Gallery (running until March 28th) is a metaphorical expression of transference. The immense installation of a black fabricated hull of a ship tucked behind a faux wall is an ominous focal point to this new body of work. Bahen’s brush work on his heavily impastoed surfaces are so effortless that the paint seems to never have actually touched the canvases. This technique, in harmony with his chosen subdued colour palette and with contrasting hints of bright red orange fire (the catharsis) and bright green (new beginnings) are remarkably balanced. An artist who “trusts his instincts and own hand”.
The paintings all depict places familiar to the artist but are always taken out of their original context to make them unrecognizable, a fictitious place to which Bahen later adds birds and dogs, never humans. A practice which may have stemmed from his early passion to paint like The Group of Seven’s Tom Thompson but because Bahen never had access to any of his works until art school his imagination took over to create the style of work that we witness today.
Laura Horne-Gaul: Where did you grow up? Has this environment influenced your compositions?
Matt Bahen: I grew up in Schomberg ON, a small farming community about an hour north of Toronto. I grew up working on farms and this sense of place and landscape I would say has left a deep impression on me, as anyone's home would I suppose. In my work I try to pick images of things or places that I am familiar with, places that I have seen or been somewhere not unlike the image. This allows me an in into the painting and I think that it also makes the work accessible to the viewer that it is both specific enough and placeless at the same time. I would say that is how the landscape where I grew up has influenced me.
LHG: What are you conveying to the viewer by installing the hull of the tanker in the gallery in your current exhibition? Are you planning anything similar for future shows?
MB: I wanted the boat hull in the show for a couple reasons. The conceptual conceit of the show hinges on the hull, the body of the gallery being considered the belly of the vessel.
I also wanted to convey a real sense of weight and immensity, where it is both seductive in how impressive the scale of the vessel is in the space, and scary or threatening the hull is, for the same reason. I have also used the image of the vessel in the past and I thought that I could transfer that image into a three dimensional form and that it would work in a way that the paintings couldn't, yet convey a similar or complementary vibe to the paintings.
LHG: You mentioned that you always wanted to paint like Tom Thompson, may you expand on why you feel this is important?
MB: I wanted to paint like Tom Thompson when I was a teenager and his work really inspired me. Seeing reproductions of his work made me want to make paintings. At that time when I had started to make work I had never seen a Thompson in person. Growing up in Schomberg I had never visited an art gallery or an art museum. So I had started working on the idea of what his work looked like, which is weird I guess. Only when I had started at art school was this world slowly revealed to me and the potential of what was possible in art. So now and for the last little while I think that I have my own unique mark, and mark making, my own voice, which is based on a false impression of Thompson's paint handling.
LHG: Do you consider yourself a landscape painter?
MB: I don't consider myself a landscape painter. I definitely do employ landscape as an element in my practice. As I said earlier the images are all familiar to me, which gives me an in to the painting, but without the accountability of being truthful to the location. I can take things out or put things in, I am creating fiction somewhat based on actual events. The work is metaphorical in the sense it is not documentary but more feeling based.
LHG: Your horizon lines are not always present, or very high giving the viewer direct view, in some the viewer is shrunk into your landscape and other times the viewer is offered an almost aerial view. Do you premeditate on how you want the viewer to perceive your painted image?
MB: The horizon line is high in a lot of the work because I want the focus to be on the earth and the ground. I also think that having the horizon line so high creates a tension in the work, and disrupts the conventional image of landscape. In particular where a lot of focus and attention is on the sky, the patterns of clouds, or colour of the sunset. Having the horizon line high gives a feeling of weight or claustrophobia to the paintings that works to reinforce the major themes of my practice which are loss and renewal.
LHG: Can you recall an exhibition over the last year that you found to be cutting edge, and why?
MB: One of the best shows that I have seen in the last few years was ROTOZERO at YYZ here in Toronto by Scott Waters in 2013. It was a show he produced after his time as a war artist with the Canadian Armed forces in Afghanistan. Powerful stuff. He employed painting, narrative text, as well as objects such as badges made specifically for the battalions by the battalions. The way he combined the various mediums in the exhibition all complimented one another and had an existential bent to it as well, which was very effective. So good. I think he is pretty great artist and an important one too.
The Anchorite, 2014, oil on canvas, 60" x 60"
The World Is Round Like an Egg and Contains All Good Things Within Her, 2014, oil on canvas, 72" x 78"
Installation view of the Hull at Le Gallery