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 http://mattstudioapparatus.blogspot.com
An older website of Matt’s http://www.mtthwmnn.com/home.html