Matthew Clifford Green, Excitable Boy
Lawrimore Project, Seattle, WA
by Rebecca Steele
Matthew Clifford Green’s exhibition, Excitable Boy, at Lawrimore Project in Seattle, consists of a series of six paintings paired with six photographs of the canvas’ backs, four fluorescent tubes installed on the gallery ceiling, and a brochure printed inside with the statement a rose is a rose is a rose ad infinitum. The paintings are installed leaning in black recessed areas of the walls. The photographs, the same dimensions as the paintings, are hung eye-level on a wall across from their corresponding canvas. Each piece is a set, the painting and its photographic documentation.
This new iteration of Lawrimore Project is a condensed version of the original gallery, an intimate space that suits this body of work well, but surprising if you have experienced the gallery’s previous expansive piece of real estate. The space has no windows and the ceilings are higher than the walls are wide, lending the gallery the atmosphere of a vault. The intimacy and starkness of the space allow the work clarity in regards to implied connections between the face and the back.
The six paintings are salacious and geographic in their use of material. The paint sits atop the canvas in thick terrains of red, green, yellow, and brown: color as sticky waves marbled by white. Staccato, rhythmic peaks bring to mind stiff icing, play-doh, a chewy, late-night handling of the medium. The works were built using force rather than stroke, crude face-off over representation, pondering, or even gentle abstraction. The palette is gruff and animated though its handling is sincere and certainly enthusiastic. The paintings could be a series of roses, out of focus and mashed together—a representation of a flower by looking to the florist’s floor. The canvas, in essence, is the final brush, and the system of this work is one built upon pairs. One painting smashed against another to create the stiff waves and conicals of paint, using the physicality of the painting to make it a stamp, or a crude monoprint.
If the paintings are defined by such adjectives as brawny, indulgent, or crepuscular, then the photographs are simple minimal spaces where the light of the gallery, the wall underneath a painting, and the sounds of the street coalesce to a hum, or even a sigh. The photographs lack the vibrato and punch of the painted work, and therein lies the cunning thrill of the exhibit. The photographs are so sharp in their detail of the canvas, and shadows of the stretcher bars that it is initially difficult to indentify them as photographs; the photograph as tromp l’oeil of the painting. This is fantastic. The paint seeps through the back of the canvases, wipes and stains reading as deteriorated markings, some hot new symbology or wicked words.
The photographs float on the walls aided by the temperature of the light, the humming white walls, the height, the ratios. The representation of the canvas-back is an iridescent grey nearing silver, the stretcher bars as oddly painted frames. Teams of systems and reversals begin to work back and forth within the sets. The paintings hang in pairs, the thing and its document, front and back simultaneously: partners, mirrors, or reversals.
To discuss this work in terms of painting would be misleading. The paintings alone are confusing. Florid dead ends, they lean midway down the wall in blacked out alcoves to propose the afterthought of the excitable moment. The product of so much material needs its singing document to gain traction. In respect to the exhibit’s installation the photographs formally mounted on a wall are such a tight and interesting series the casual angle of the painted pieces reads as pure strategy, it works yet is simultaneously laden with a heavy and intentional vibe.
And here the exhibition’s text begs an analytic return—are we to wonder what is in a name again and again? Helpful hint, insistent bully, frowning bystander? What is in a name, or a painting for that matter: a joke, a long farewell, an eviction notice? A painting as its own question and answer so neatly, purposefully, maybe even thoughtfully delivered with transcript of some future progeny, a painting as its own beginning and end, it is its own brush and also its copy and documentation, which in some manner can be considered its end. This work hovers on white wings, nearly angelic. Green has not forgotten his more calamitous jokes or “fuck you”s of previous pieces, but the margins have narrowed and what is said is only what needs to be. The joke isn’t on the audience, but on his painting, and as such is one of the more refreshing ideas I have seen lately. The exhibition establishes meaning not through the success or failure of a painting, but on the insistence of exchange between the front and back of things.
Oh, I did put the Warren Zevon reference to the artist, and his response suggested the title represented the energy that surrounded the making of the work rather than any particular interest, serious or otherwise, in the musician as artist or inspiration.
Rebecca Steele is a West Coast based artist, writer, freelance photographer, avid historiographer, and occasional critic. Steele is super excited about collaboration, couch surfing, and sun.