Matthew Mann

Washington, DC | by August 17, 2010

I had not seen a paint­ing of Matthew Mann’s in per­son until I vis­ited his stu­dio in South­east DC on a very hot Sat­ur­day after­noon in late July of this year. Mann met me at the Ana­cos­tia metro sta­tion for the short walk to Hon­fluer gallery where he keeps his stu­dio. He is the last artist remain­ing in the upstairs com­plex of stu­dios.  The adja­cent spaces (there are three or four of them) are used as offices.

When we arrived, there was a gallery assis­tant busy dein­stalling an exhi­bi­tion down­stairs at Hon­fluer.  Next up at Hon­fluer is a group show of Anacostia-​​based artists in which Mann will have one small oil paint­ing.  We walked upstairs and passed four or five large can­vasses of Mann’s which are part of his cur­rent solo show at Flash­point.  Mann brought us a cou­ple of mugs of tap water and I took my hat off and looked around the approx­i­mately 8’x10’ studio.

Mann works his ideas out with sketches, some of which are pinned to the wall of his stu­dio.  The sketches look like ani­ma­tion cells in their early stages and seem to be drawn to scale.  Mann describes a process of con­struct­ing works from what he might call his mem­ory of one or more other works he has seen before.  He might begin, for exam­ple, with an inter­est in the com­po­si­tion of The Nymph at the National Gallery, or Canaletto’s water.  By the time Mann puts paint (these are oils) to can­vas he has a very good idea of the com­po­si­tion, place­ment of fig­ures, objects, archi­tec­tural, and land­scape ele­ments. What­ever ‘find­ing’ of com­po­si­tion is occur­ring in the con­struc­tion of these paint­ings is not evi­dent in the paint­ings them­selves. Under­paint­ing, if there is any, does not show through, around, above, or below the shapes.  These paint­ings are not brushy.  The col­ors are flat, the shapes are solid.  The effect is clas­si­cally graphic.  The spaces in Mann’s paint­ings con­sist of a hand­ful of planes, each clearly defined from the oth­ers, stacked to cre­ate the illu­sion of depth.

Mann talked for a minute about one of his paint­ings in his stu­dio, an expul­sion scene.  This scene, like the five oth­ers in Mann’s show “The Cinecitta Chapel” at Flash­point, is loosely based on a cycle of fres­cos  by Giotto in the Chapel at Padua.  Mann described the fig­ures in this series as ‘stovepipe,’ which is apt as a for­mal descrip­tion and (par­don the mixed-​​usage) as a fig­u­ra­tive descrip­tion (I like this list of what ‘stovepipe’ can refer to) of the var­i­ous per­son­ages. It was well into the visit before I made the obser­va­tion that there is not a sin­gle face in this cycle of paint­ings.  There are only be-​​hatted heads are there are a few dif­fer­ent types. Cow­boy hats dom­i­nate. There are also bowlers and der­bys. The absence of faces and accom­pa­ny­ing facial expres­sion lim­its the nar­ra­tives of these works to a cer­tain sim­plic­ity. The per­son­ages are designed to work in a sim­ple man­ner: it’s just a bunch of car­toon bad­dies doing car­toon bad things to one another.

Before I left Mann showed me two of his ear­lier works, and I men­tion this in clos­ing because it caused me to won­der if there will come a time when Mann will see these older works as mem­o­ries of the paint­ings he’s made recently.


Matt’s blog about his cur­rent work

An older web­site of Matt’s

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