Matt Jones

Matt Jones Interview - By Steven Cox

This interview with Matt Jones has been realised in collaboration with Galerie Jérôme Pauchant, in light of his current and first solo exhibition in Paris, Ancestral Recall, that runs from April 17 to June 6, 2015.

SC: To begin, can you tell me about yourself and creative background?

MJ: I've always drawn. As a kid I was fueled by Spawn, Prophet, Mortal Kombat, Final Fantasy, and Ghostbusters. I still am.

SC: When did you move to New York?

MJ: The first time I visited New York I was home. Like it had been waiting for me. I moved to the East Village in 1998.

SC: You studied The Advancement of Science and Art in New York at The Cooper Union (BFA 2002), I am interested to know to what extent science has influenced your works?

MJ: I could make a career’s worth of paintings from the feeling I get while contemplating the vastness of space and all that we do not know. Lately I’ve been actively unlearning science and giving way to magic.

SC: Have you always been fascinated in this overlap between art and science?

MJ: The dialogue between science and art is awesome. Both disciplines require one to question everything and to use one’s imagination to get sharable beautiful results.

SC: Your exhibition Ancestral Recall has just recently opened in Paris at Galerie Jerome Pauchant. I believe you made all of the works for this exhibition during your residency in Paris? Perhaps you can tell me about the works and how influential Paris was on you?

MJ: Fabrice Hybert, an over the top great French artist, loaned me part of his enormous studio for the duration of my stay in Paris. Skylights, curved ceilings, the space was four times the size of my Brooklyn studio. It was unreal. All of the materials I used, save some pigments I brought from home, were sourced locally. 

I spent a day at the Louvre drawing the hands in Poussin paintings in my sketchbook. Mostly blind countour drawings, staring at the painting as I drew, tracing its edges with my eyes, only looking at the paper when I was done. I have countless Poussin paintings memorized now. That shit impacts your art practice.

SC: You have told me that it is important to you that the works you make relate to the people and place of where they are shown. How exactly do you feel that your works relate to the people of Paris and the city itself? Can you highlight the connections, and discuss which elements perhaps signify this?

MJ: If I made paintings in my Brooklyn studio and shipped them to Galerie Jérôme Pauchant there would be no personal connection between me, the work, and the place I’m showing. I’d have been an American hanging my American paintings I made with American materials in France. I learned a few years ago while painting in a Berlin gallery space (for a two person show with Kadar Brock, “Evil Dead 2”) that it means something to work with materials sourced from the same culture you’re exhibiting. They’re imbued with authentic Parisian spirit by virtue of being crafted there. Most cities in the western world have oil and acrylic paints, stretchers, canvas, and the rest. It’s the least I can do, tapping the mana of the land and culture, to produce the works that I’m asking native inhabitants to look at and think about.

SC: I see that you exhibited a series of space paintings in 2011 that were exhibited at The Hole. I am interested to know how your new space paintings relate to those of the past, and how you feel progress has been made between these works over the years? Mainly, how different are they now, to the works of 2011?

MJ: The space paintings from the “...” exhibition at The Hole are huge. Eight by six feet, eight by twelve feet, and eight by eighteen feet. The space they were going into demanded enormous paintings, things you could walk into. Caspar David Friedrich style relationships to the sublime. All that. Newer space paintings are less about effect, more about the relationship to painting history and materials. Now I build them more than paint them. There’s a lot more Ad Reinhardt and poetry. They’re more intimate and subtle. I imagine them developing forever, back and forth, along these lines, forever.

SC: Tell me about the title of your exhibition Ancestral Recall…

MJ: I often title my shows after Magic: The Gathering card names. Jérôme Pauchant asked me about a title fairly early on and I hadn’t given it a thought. None of the paintings existed yet! One day it just hit me. The show will be called Ancestral Recall, an over powered Magic card but more importantly, the idea of tapping into the energy of one’s ancestors. I was going to Paris in part to step into painting history and try to sample some of its magic and use it in my own paintings. Ancestral Recall is a perfect title. It acknowledges the spell the city has over me and gives a nod to those who came before, the lineage I place myself in. Any painter who tells you she's not a sorcerer is lying.

SC: Within Ancestral Recall you are also presenting a series of Ghost paintings that are resin-coated, gestural abstractions. I believe these works have been on going within your practice for a while? Can you tell me about these works?

MJ: I wrote in a sketchbook "what would space-time look like if it was a painting?" A few days later I walked to the local art supply store, saw a wall of iridescent pigments and I knew what space-time looked like, or I knew how to try and make space-time into a painting.

I took a 48"x36" piece of birch ply I'd been using as a table, coated it hastily with acrylic polymer, painted it black, made a solution using the new iridescent pigments, and poured it on. There's a lot of play in each step of making a ghost painting. Sliding paint around. Wiping away uninteresting layers. Adding new layers. Eventually I coat the whole thing in resin. Turning this wasteland of a surface into a glowing iridescent window onto other dimensions is alchemic magic.

A friend visiting my studio asked if the first ghost painting was a JPEG. That was very flattering, the idea that a mostly traditionally made painting was a computer generated image.

The ghost paintings are a part of my practice that represents the intangible. The energy shared between living things, love, perception, spirits, things we believe in but cannot produce evidence of.

SC: In relation to these works, I have seen a few variations. How has your process of making these works changed over the years?

MJ: My need to explore the material potential of these paintings continues, so the practice of making them expands and develops. Originally they were paintings of enhanced brushstrokes, then the results have seriously fucked with acrylic polymer. Now and then I dip studio detritus into the surfaces to leave impressions of swords, books, and armor. They’ll continue to adapt as my painting practice evolves.

SC: Alongside your Ghost Paintings, you are presenting a series of Enchantment Paintings and drawings that originate from smartphone photographs taken on a daily basis. I am interested to know more about these works, their relation to the Ghost Paintings, and to what extent these ‘Enchantment’ works relate to fantasy and science fiction-based RPG games?

MJ: Some enchantment works come from iPhone photos, some from screen grabs from video games I play, usually Destiny or Diablo 3. The enchantment works are the most personal things I make. They're taken directly from my life, abstracted, and then drawn and painted. They point to landscapes, mythological characters, and other storytelling elements. They're the physical objects and places that make up the universes depicted in the space paintings. They’re the entities that ghost paintings flow through.

In a watercolor like "To Live There With Other Sorceresses" (2015), a screen grab from the Fields of Misery in Diablo 3, I get to spend time with a single image, a sort of meditation on the beauty of the game. Normally I'm blowing through levels and killing enemies as quickly as I can. There's not much time to pause and bask in the beauty of the game.

The same is true of the iPhone derived drawings like "A Nude Woman Casually Lunching With Fully Dressed Men" (2015), I get to spend a few hours drawing into a photograph of "Picnic On The Grass." I took the photo in Paris while visiting Musee d'Orsay. The drawing is a detail of the painting that is broken up by a woman's arm (my girlfriend's) as she reaches into the picture plane. The composition of the drawing is the same visual set-up as many first Person Shooter games (Destiny, Doom, etc.) and semi-FPS games like Skyrim. It seemed like a good idea to reinvestigate Caspar David Friedrich and Courbet's attempts at bringing the viewer into the painting and that FPS gaming mechanics and visuals would be a really interesting way to do this.

SC: Are there any specific artists that you would say have been inspirational to you?

MJ: Oh yes. Martin Kippenberger is the greatest artist inspiration. I was hit with his work when I was making these "special time abstractions." Many years later I found out this was Wendy White's term for small, precious, deeply personal, paint-language paintings. At the time I talked about my paintings in terms of the mark and color like I was in a bad relationship with them and needed to explain to my friends that it wasn't so bad and we really loved each other.

Junior year the head of the painting department at Cooper told me there was a Martin Kippenberger show at Metro Pictures I should see. It was "Jacqueline: The Paintings Pablo Couldn't Paint Anymore".  I hated it the first time I saw it. Kippenberger had such balls painting these portraits of Picasso's widow, signing her name to them, and transforming her face into his over the course of a couple of paintings. How dare he attempt to finish Picasso's work for him!

I went back three times, eventually loving it. I often think about it. The show changed my life. It ended my career as a "special time abstraction" painter immediately. I was freer than I'd ever been. My art became smarter, funnier, and much more meaningful. No other exhibition opened my mind and painting practice up as much as that one.

There's a shit ton of other artists that I find inspirational. Here're two lists of them. Both leave a bunch of people out. Dead: Francisco de Goya, Edouard Manet, Philip Guston, Hendrick Goltzius, Gustave Courbet, Nicolas Poussin, Giorgio Morandi, Paul Gauguin, Jean-François Millet, Sigmar Polke, and Caspar David Friedrich. Living: Kadar Brock, Wendy White, Henning Strassburger, James Krone, Albert Oehlen, Andre Butzer, Thomas Ruff, Sherrie Levine, Josh Smith, and Michael Heizer.

Images courtesy of Galerie Jérôme Pauchant

Matt Jones