Through an intense engagement with painted paper cutouts, glue, and scissors, Matt Rich has created a new body of work that explores the delicate and fragile, more so than in prior paintings. The pieces reference collage, and come across as abstract constructions of pattern, line, and intense planes of color that clearly embrace the artists’ gesture, evident in strong brushstrokes. In the past, his pieces formed shapes that may have resembled recognizable images, perhaps also commenting on the type of painting on shaped canvas made by Ron Davis or Frank Stella.
A new sensibility describes the 10 pieces on view at Holly Johnson Gallery; their playful beauty and tense resistance to read as empirical geometries, or archetypes, testifies to Rich’s originality. He assembles the parts working outwards from the center, building layers that fail, structurally, to come together at every point such that architectural wall supports are essential; otherwise they would uncontrollably fail to lie flat. Conversely, as multi-layered constructions they form three-dimensional shapes that are difficult to perceive in all their complexity when viewed at a distance-as viewers come to realize as they come closer to the pieces. This tension between the part and the whole, the near and the far, lies at the heart of how Rich explores experience and human interaction through art. The shapes and surfaces of the pieces are often irregular, and read as process art that reveals what happens in the studio. This, in turn, translates into the viewer’s experience of an aesthetic conversation. For example in Shelf (2014), an abstract pattern of triangular, trapezoidal, non-descriptive multi-colored shapes and swirls seems to sit atop a shelf-like platform. This so-called shelf with a singular color treatment seemingly attaches to the wall on the left, reaching rightwards as a real shelf would when viewed from the side. The viewer realizes this when looking from the front, as a profile-but is it? Rich conflates the spatial arrangement because at the same time the image is completely abstract and non-representational. It attests to intuitive decisions made in the studio, and translates those experiences into possible perceptions in the gallery space. Shelf’s overall shape defies description to a point, but shows that more than a few ideas are stacked upon its fragile structure.
Acrylic on cut paper
16 3⁄4″ x 14 3⁄4″
Photo: courtesy Holly Johnson Gallery