An Interview with Matthew Carver
by Laura Horne-Gaul
August 8th, 2014
Being a Canadian for a young man means fantasizing about being an NHL superstar or... a firefighter. At the early age of eleven, Carver realized that being an artist is a “thing”. His Uncle was a political cartoonist and his studio greatly impacted the young Carver.
Matthew Carver is a Kitchener/Waterloo based artist/educator. He has had solo exhibitions in Canada, Germany, Malaysia and Singapore. His latest paintings are dystopian, fictitious interiors housing an intersection of his travels to the East with the West. The titles of the paintings play on Carver's appreciation for recent novels such as Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, (Random House, 2010).
Carver is a painter who wrestles with both figurative and representational works, his main aim “is to create paintings as puzzles to decode over indeterminate lengths of time, rather than illustrations taken at a glance.” For the last decade Carver has been travelling throughout Asia with his art and spending time in various places. This enabled him to become close with other artists in their environments and really get to know their inspirations. A favorite painter of his is “a young Filipino artist currently on the edge of Manila, named Froilan Calayag who creates these amazing, imaginative worlds.” Carver’s influences from the West involve Nigel Cooke, Cecily Brown and Daniel Richter’s series of paintings with Taliban-like figures in mountainscapes.
As previously mentioned Carver has been impacted by his readings which include a lot of “well written dystopian fiction and also some of Slavoj Žižek’s recent books, and other writers dealing with issues of power, capitalism, corruption and time.” Carver reflects on the ever present “Modernism” and it’s influence. "Is it that we’re at a new height of modernism?... This is something I doubt, and more that we’re seeing so much of the same thing. Why is this?" Carver wonders. Carver is bored and angered by these reductive tropes, he is “tired of the meta, I’m a painting, painting”. Carver considers that historically the challenge to discover the essence of something can be very damaging for the potential creativity in art practices.
In Carver's latest works he is interested in how “Modernism is used as a kind of signage for class, the elite, and importantly the power”. His fictitious interiors “allow the viewer into folds in this modernity”. Carver responds, “A dominant take on modernism is that a medium such as painting is to be distilled down to its essence (which I very much disagree with). Instead, art should be about wrestling, which draws parallels to politics. The solutions lie in constant engagement and wrestling, not in trying to get an ultimate solution, which almost always results in tyranny.” To quote Foucault, "the hope is that where there is power, there is resistance”. Carver believes that “Whether we like it or not, we are all drawn now into a universal, global paradigm, even in our everyday lives, and need to recognize this.”
What comes next in the arts? When asked what was next, the art and culture critic, Dave Hickey once responded, “beauty”. He elaborated later in his book, Invisible Dragon, “… as long as nothing but the beautiful is rendered beautifully, there is no friction – and things do not change.” Carver considers, “people forget how rebellious and disrupting Pop Art was following the original modernist art period. Perhaps we’ll see reactions again.” Carver prefers “Nicolas Bourriaud’s concept of art history as a spiral instead of the linear, what’s next”, advancing while turning back on itself (although we have to be careful that art doesn’t become this boring, self referential navel gazing that just endlessly samples and refers to itself) and even better, an extending kaleidoscope. This is also the consequence of art becoming global… not that a style is imposed globally, but that it refracts and circulates freely with more possibilities.” Carver supposes, “the point to all that, is that it’s necessary to look at how what might once be seen as radical and brave and new, has become a rote behavior and a tired trope or worse, a rule. It’s easy, to get caught up in gestures, regarding painting. Instead, I like what the artist, Carl Beam calls, jestures, creating imaginative alternate viewpoints.”
As a teacher Carver recounts his favorite passage in Dave Hickey’s book, Air Guitar: “Even so, I had a right to be shocked a few years later when I enrolled in a University and discovered that Pollock’s joyous permission had been translated into a prohibitive, institutional edict: It’s bad not to drip! The art coaches said. It means you got no soul! Yikes! Henceforth, it has always seemed to me that the trick of civilization lies in recognizing the moment when a rule ceases to liberate and begins to govern – and this brings us back to the glory of hoops.” Teaching in a University setting has made Carver want to reevaluate the differing influences of power on creativity in young artists. Also he believes that it is important for institutions to determine “what they currently uphold as high and what as low, and then really question that.” Just as Foucault would want us to examine how this leads to conditions of discipline, what he called an “art of rank”.
“Hickey’s passage on the influence of Jackson Pollock on painting practices follows his writing about Dr. J scoring on Kareem in the NBA Finals from behind the backboard. I borrowed the quote from Hickey in my Masters’ thesis some years back and extended the example to Gretzky using his improvisational skills and scoring from behind the net. That’s about as close to professional hockey as I ever got.”
“Bryce observed a pattern forming around Room 22”, acrylic on canvas, 127 x 127 cm, 2014
"Eunice and I found a big hit of tangerine porn looted from the living room", acrylic on canvas,
120 x 177 cm, 2014
"Prajogo’s Virtual Surroundings", acrylic on canvas, 120 x 214 cm, 2014