Work from home inspiration from the artist Matt Curley

Tuesday Night Painting #8

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One of the paintings I'll be exhibiting at my virtual opening this week

Hello painters, 

Last week we viewed the work of the late British painter Gillian Wise. I posted a few additional thoughts on her work here on my Twitter. If you feel like once a week isn't often enough for painting things then you can follow me there and see whatever other painting links I come across.

First off, some personal news: I'm taking part in a virtual exhibit that is "opening" on Wednesday, May 13th, alongside friend and former SMFA classmate Lindsey Kocur. I'll be including all of my recent abstract works plus some additional paintings I've made over the past two years. You'll be able to see this show at the AREA Gallery website.

For the newsletter this week we're going to try something slightly new and different. I've got an interview for you from the NYC-based abstract artist Matt Curley. If you like this interview and would like to see more content like this, just shoot me a reply to this email.

Matt Curley, Half Light, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 12 in

Matt Curley, Passageway, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 12 in

I first came across Matt's artwork on Instagram. I think his work has a way of sneaking up on you. The color palette is cool and quiet in the same way as winter afternoons in New England. If you know the way the light looks and the feeling of the sun setting around 4:30 or 5 pm in December then you'll find a familiarity in Matt's work.

In fact, the more I thought about Matt's compositions, color palettes, and subject matter, the more they reminded me of New England and the red-brick factory towns north of Boston. It just so happens that Matt was born in Salem, MA. 

Scroll down you'll find lots more of Matt's work in this newsletter and you'll see the Q&A that we conducted with proper socially distant protocol by email.

Matt Curley, Early Evening, 2019, Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16 in

I really missed that feeling of being in the studio and I wanted to push myself creatively."
TM: What's your background in art-making: have you always been painting abstractly?

MC: Since I was a child I’ve always been creating, but I didn’t discover my love for painting abstractly until I studied painting in college. Before college, I was more interested in drawing realistically, often in as much detail as I could manage. During my senior year of high school I started exploring painting and began experimenting with abstraction at the encouragement of my art teacher. My first abstract paintings were based on landscapes, but using more gestural brushstrokes. 

After first attending college undeclared, I decided to major in painting because I really missed that feeling of being in the studio and I wanted to push myself creatively. That was one of the best decisions I could have made. The most influential courses I took were non-representational painting and landscape painting. These classes involved a lot of museum visits, including a trip to MoMA to see abstract expressionism. I also learned so much about color and observation from landscape painting. I felt the need to paint in a way that combined these aesthetic interests, and that the only way to do so was abstractly. 

As part of my senior thesis project, I took a course with Sue Miller at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. She looked at my sketchbook and a few of my previous paintings, and noticed that I was including hints of geometric shapes in my paintings. She encouraged me to see what happens when I make purely geometric abstract paintings. It felt like I had finally opened my eyes and found a way to paint the world the way I see it!

Matt Curley, Untitled, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 in

Matt Curley, Early December, 2019, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 in
Matt Curley, Within and Without (diptych), 2019, Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 12 each
TM: One of my biggest focuses as a teacher is to open up avenues for my students into how to begin an abstract painting. How do you get a painting started? How much are your paintings sketched out ahead of time versus developed and reconfigured on the canvas?

MC: I start by making several exploratory pencil sketches in my sketchbook when I’m not in the studio. After sketching, I synthesize multiple sketches into compositions. Most of my paintings are planned out but only to a certain degree. There’s usually one or two parts of the composition that I am attached to and want to build a painting around. 


I start the painting by first covering the entire canvas in a warm color, then roughly blocking in where I want certain shapes to go. Colors can be determined after I’ve already started the painting. The paintings that are most successful to me are the ones that involve a sort of problem solving in their process and a dialogue with the painting as it starts to take shape. If I am planning out the entire piece beforehand, then there’s no risk involved and it doesn’t feel like a finished painting to me.

Matt Curley, Cast Over, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 in
Matt Curley, Early December, 2019, Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 in
The paintings that are most successful to me are the ones that involve a sort of problem solving in their process "
Matt Curley, T-120, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 in
Matt Curley, Levels, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 12 in
More interviews are coming!
What questions should I ask the next artists? Reply to this email and send me questions or topics you want to learn about.

TM: How do you accumulate the various elements for your paintings, the fragments of landscape and architecture that you put back together on the canvas? Do you go out on walks to actively hunt for lines, shapes, colors? Do you work from photographs, drawings, previous paintings?

MC: When sketching, I find shapes in shadows on the sides of buildings or overlapping architectural features of houses. I have also found a lot of shapes and colors within the rocky coast of Massachusetts where I grew up and often visit. I sketch shapes, make note of colors, and take photos to consult later on. When working on a painting, I look back through previous sketches and pull something to use. I never know when I might find something useful from a previous sketch. 


Oftentimes a painting can also be inspired by a previous painting. This way, I can explore a certain shape or color to a further extent. My most recent paintings all feature grids, and involve different ways of incorporating a grid into the composition. It started with a sketch of a window, then I began coming up with multiple variations of grids to incorporate.

Matt Curley, Elevation, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 in
Matt Curley, Inlay, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 in
Matt Curley, Boundary, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24 in
Matt Curley, Satellite, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 in
I think each color having that same origin gives the painting a sense of unity."
TM: Your color palette is very distinct. To me it feels like you make paintings of quiet moments and your palette reflects that. Even the brighter colors you use, your yellows and oranges, have a quieter quality to them. What are you looking for when selecting a color palette and what guides you to the colors you use?

MC: I’m looking for a sense of harmony in the colors that I use. I try to use colors from quiet moments that I have observed in real life. One thing I learned from landscape painting is how each color can dictate the mood of the entire painting. When painting plein aire, I mix my palette mostly from primary colors which forces me to look deeply at each color of the natural landscape. When painting in the studio, I continue that process and mix all colors from the primaries as much as possible. I think each color having that same origin gives the painting a sense of unity. I gravitate towards a warmer color palette. I seek colors that communicate a warm, quiet feeling that is informed by what I learned from painting the landscape directly from observation. 
Matt Curley, Headland, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11 in
Matt Curley, Côte, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 in
TM: Has your working method changed drastically now given our current circumstances? 

MC: Before quarantine began, I was already painting from a studio setup in my apartment, so my method hasn’t drastically changed. However, since quarantine began, I’ve been working on a lot of smaller gouache paintings on paper. Since I haven't been able to sketch outdoors, my gouache paintings have been inspired by shapes, shadows, and views from my apartment. I have also been forcing myself to work on previously unfinished paintings on canvas. I stocked up enough that I still haven’t run out of paint!


With limitations on travel, I’ve found myself walking around my own neighborhood in Queens a lot more and observing new things that I perhaps would not have noticed before. I’ve liked exploring quieter side streets and walking to areas outside of my usual routines. This has given me a lot of inspiration and material for my sketchbook.

Matt added that he finds inspiration from a mixture of abstract and representational artists including Lois Dodd, Nicolas de Staël, Etel Adnan, and Nathalie du Pasquier, all of whom would provide good material for future newsletters. [Random aside: since this newsletter began I've been trying to set aside one issue to devote to Nathalie du Pasquier, but I keep postponing it until next week, and now it's become a running joke for literally no one but just me. Got to find ways to amuse yourself these days.]

Matt also looks for inspiration from landscape painters like his grandmother Eileen Curley, who took up painting in her retirement, and provided much color and light in Matt's childhood.

And so that concludes our first interview! With the next couple of images, I want to take you on a brief tour of the sort of inspirations and connections I saw through Matt's paintings.
Matt's images call to mind the work of Charles Sheeler, Ralston Crawford, and the Precisionists, a group of American artists who never existed as a formal movement, but are loosely grouped together based on compositional and conceptual approaches. The Precisionists focused on clean, simple compositions structured around geometric forms. Their subject matter almost always was focused on architecture, whether it be urban skyscrapers or grain silos. 

Pictured above: Charles Sheeler
Pictured below: Ralston Crawford
I also see a connection between Matt's compositions and subject matter and the geometric work of Peter Halley. Halley began an extensive and far-reaching series of geometric paintings in the early 1980's comprised of what he refers to as "cells" and "conduits." He and his fellow group of Neo-Geo abstract contemporaries sought to inject their abstract paintings with themes of social critique. 

I highly encourage you to look through more of Peter Halley's work at his website here.
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Installation view of Leap of Color, at Yares Art
A review by Tom McGlynn in the Brooklyn Rail about LEAP OF COLOR, an exhibit of paintings taken from the Washington Color School, a collection of artists with a few names you may recognize from Art History text books: Kenneth Noland first and foremost. Images of the exhibit can be viewed on the gallery's website.

Why the art world is rediscovering the work of female abstract expressionist painter Michael West. West died in 1991 with no wills and no heirs, and her entire archive of paintings and documents were purchased by the art photographer Stuart Friedman. Without his intervention, a huge collection of paintings would have been consigned to the trash heap.

Some insight into how artists are responding and adapting to the COVID-19 lockdown. This article interviews three artists in San Francisco to talk about how their lives and their plans have now changed.

The 86-year old artist Wyoming artist Neltje is getting a second-chance at her Yellowstone Art Museum exhibit. The work went on display immediately before the COVID-19 lockdown but will be extended into October. The show features some massive paintings (10 by 30 feet in some cases) that are inspired by floral motifs. 
I hope you had as much fun reading this newsletter as I did writing it. This week I assembled most of it on Friday night and then finished it off on Saturday night. That's how I'm spending the weekends lately, all for you!

To steal something from the artist Austin Kleon (who stole it from the Austin Chronicle newspaper),
this newsletter is free but not cheap. 
Chip in a few $$
I've been spending more and more hours each week researching and writing about new artists for me and you to lovingly gaze at. So if you can chip in a few dollars, I would very much appreciate it. 
And so we reach the end of another Tuesday Night letter. Here's another random assortment of tunes that (more or less) are all recent releases. Please enjoy these tunes and keep the painting vibes going:

Caribou - You and I
Session Victim - The Pain
Metronomy - Whitsand Bay
Vanilla - Footsteps
strongboi - strongboi
Buscabulla - Manda Fuego

See you next time!
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