FlyOver: May 2008 Archives

Matt Lively - Recent Works at Adam Cave Fine Art

Raleigh NC   March 28 - April 29, 2008

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Turgid Type, oil on paper, 30"x40"  (all images courtesy of Adam Cave Fine Art)

        Matt Lively creates paintings that live up to his surname.  His works are never dull but instead are about the fanciful flights of everyday objects that foray off in unexpected directions.  The Richmond based artist has developed a style imbued with a tremendous dose of whimsy and often a good bit of surrealism thrown into the mix for good measure.   His paintings recently on view at Adam Cave Fine Art in Raleigh depicted stage set-like tableaux of domesticity: sitting parlors with groupings of striped and patterned chairs, living or bedroom like spaces with large windows and wind blown curtains, ironing boards fraternizing with high chairs, and staircases that curl around small tables like your grandma's that held the family telephone.  Ordinary household items, often of the old-timey, made-in-USA era variety, are a common thread that reappear in the canvases and visually tie this series of works together.  These items are central in the paintings and are typically actual objects the artist owns- an antique film projector for instance, an old circulating fan, a rotary dial telephone- and they simultaneously lend an air of nostalgic familiarity coupled with an unsettled air of mysterious tranquility.

The paintings share much with the fundamentals of still life painting in that the main subject matter consists of carefully composed objects, attentively painted, within a supporting background.  Yet in Lively's paintings these objects are always strongly metaphorical and seem to be stand-ins for the missing occupants of these spaces. This in turn gives rise to all sorts of associations that your mind begins to draw. Has the occupant of the room just left for a second and we're catching the precise moment when they are absent? Or are they ever really coming back? Why are their belongings blowing all around in the drafty breeze like that? Who really owns that many chairs and how can their house have so many little rooms?

Indeed for all the tendency of your mind to have a traditional Westerner's point of view (i.e. focusing on the objects rather than the space around them) it is a more intangible element that recurs throughout that gives these works their chutzpah: namely the continual breeze that appears to be blowing across the scene. It is a constant presence whether blowing the papers out of an antique typewriter in the painting titled "Turgid Type"or loosing the dots right off the pattern of a hanging dress in "Fall in Place" leaving them tumbling down onto the floor. It is a tough task this; the painting of the wind, yet this abstruse breeze seems to me to be the true inhabitant of these spaces.  It flutters and flows about, making its way around and between the objects in the rooms as handily as we viewers survey the painted subjects themselves.  

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       Fall in Place, oil on canvas, 30"x30"       

        A few live elements do occur to bring a sense of the living into the fray: a bird just flown out of a birdcage, a comical swarm of bees in flight mounted on curious little miniature unicycles. But one particular inanimate item that caught my attention is the recurring old fashioned plug-in electrical cord that is generally present with each painted appliance.  This cord curls out and away from the fans, clothes irons, and movie projectors towards a wall socket as if to seek out some broader harmony for the objects within their surroundings. It is a tangible element of connection -a literal power source- that suffuses Lively's work with a sense of tactile linkage.  In our accelerated present, a time of wireless and unplugged everything, sometimes it takes an honest time-worn item like this to connect us back to fundamental notions of inhabitance and spaces we might call our own.   


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     Flutter and Click, oil on paper, 30"x40"

a postscript...

    The painter, I learned from his recent interview on WUNC radio's "The State of Things," also has an intriguing alter ego- Matthew Lively- who is more the brooding type, preferring to work with darker, more menacing themes.  Matthew is more prone to show his work in bars and pubs - his own art underworld if you will- whereas Matt's work is more content in hanging (no pun intended) with the traditional gallery crowd.  The work done under each guise rarely crosses over into the realm of the other and Lively (who I have to imagine must have to constantly refer to himself as the Artist formerly known as the other M) is perfectly ok with that. Indeed it is a modus operandi that serves him well as it has many other creative types through history from Duchamp / Rose Selavy to the multi-heteronymical Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa.  The overall benefit is that Lively is able to cleverly pursue multiple, simultaneous streams of thought in his work in a fruitful way.  He in fact becomes his own multi-tasking editor as this working method allows him to let varying ideas and concepts be utilized (or not) in a pluralistic variety of working styles.   In doing so he is able to tinge his works with various subtle shades of meaning that have the benefit of broad resonance with viewers...whatever sort of art venue they tend to frequent.   The artist noted in this same interview that practically none of Matthew's fans are likely to cross over to see the paintings done by Matt and vice versa due to the differences in venue and the type of crowd each attracts.  But do yourself a favor if you get a chance; break this trend and check out what's going on in both places. It's well worth the trip to see what's coming out of the flip side of this artist's palette.

May 13, 2008 8:57 PM |
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I was speaking with someone this week about a local artist I hadn't thought about in awhile and I got to pondering why this was the case.  (Since I'd been thinking about local folk or outsider artists lately this seemed a natural choice for me to write about this time out also.) The sculptor's name is Vollis Simpson and he's become especially well known nationally in the past decade or so for his giant whirligigs. These are windmill-like contraptions that he builds in his garage in tiny Lacama, North Carolina. Vollis is a retired machinist so he has the know how (plus the requisite shop space and importantly a serious tool collection) to build such things and for the most part, they are some pretty large and intricate constructions. Perhaps I've just taken these artworks for granted as they are accommodating, crowd pleasing, a hit with the kids, and actually just plain fun to watch. Every time I see one of these whirligigs I get a small inkling of what it must have been like to see Calder performing with his circus back in the day. It's like catching a maestro at the top of his game; in this case one with a welding torch in hand and metal grinder in the other. 

There is always an element of kinetic anticipation with these sculptures since for all their lightheartedness and carnival-like whimsy they are actually very precisely balanced and engineered; constructed to spin even in very slight winds. It is easy to be transported back to childhood memories of kites and handheld windmills when you look at Vollis's work because they in fact conjure up all these associations. Hand built, home made toys cobbled together for an afternoon's enjoyment come to mind but most particularly they exemplify flights of fancy straight from the imagination of a child.  To get an idea of what one of these looks like, picture a triangulated metal truss painted up in red, white, and blue and decked out with small cup shaped propellers, reflectors, metal cut out figure shapes, fan blades, and festive spirals that project up and about.  This truss is typically perched upon a metal post directly proportional in height to the whirligig's overall size (i.e. the larger the truss then the taller the post.)  There is often a large propeller shape at the front end and a vertical wind vane-like tail at the rear to help the whole construction spin on its axis and orient itself to the best winds.  There is always with these whirligigs a guarantee of a multitude of shapes and colors glittering and spinning in harmony at the whim of the breeze all through the day. 

One of Vollis's more spectacular whirligigs which is at least the size of a Volkswagen rises magnificently up on a tall column base sited along the sculpture walk that circles the North Carolina Museum of Art. The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore has an equally large whirligig prominently sited just outside their main entrance and it is effective as an eye-catching announcement to potential museum-goers that a different type of art is housed there.  Downtown Raleigh is actually the beneficiary of 3 small whirligigs that reside in a tiny little park near Moore Square. Unfortunately this park (and especially the artwork) is so woefully underutilized that it is actually cordoned off by a high metal fence circling its entire perimeter. The park space is likely to be part of the redevelopment associated with Raleigh's downtown renaissance and the ongoing building boom which is bringing a plethora of new mixed-use construction (and some much need housing) to the downtown scene.  Along with all this is the great hope of enhanced vitality for the downtown scene.  The whirligigs in such a scenario don't really stand a chance against the promise of bona fide leasable square footage and the lure of restored retail spaces long-lost to the suburbs.  much needed retail and teeming with retail and anxious shoppers (or this is how certain hopefuls see it) eager to try the newly rechristened downtown shoso they seem up for grabs.

What my companion and I actually talked about was Vollis's extensive collection of original whirligigs scattered abouts his property in Lacama and how they've weathered over time.  The artist has been at it now for a good couple of decades and some of his first sculptures have been out in the elements since then.  They've gotten a little creaky as a result and we were contemplating this fact as my companion had been fortunate enough to see some of the early whirligigs when they were brand new and freshly installed outside Vollis's garage workshop.  Their movement, he told me, was flawless and silent; like a fine tuned machine motoring along with the breeze.  Part of their awe was seeing the whimsy and crudity of some of the cut-out sheet metal figures and windmill blades contrast with superb engineering allowing their high degree of wind-blown performance.  Would the artist be amenable to restoring his constructions to such a state of super-smooth efficiency if asked?  Or would he instead prefer their weathered appearance acquired over time in situ?  It struck me as an odd pair of juxtapositions: one set of folk art sculptures whose only real problem is that they have simply been outside now at the artist's home for quite awhile now and have consequently suffered pm;u at the hand of Mother Nature, and another trio of small whirligig cousins whose only crime is that they sit on some now highly valued land deemed much more appropriate for something other than a teeny-tiny urban park that no one can enter or use.  



May 9, 2008 10:21 PM | | Comments (1)

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