What I found most interesting about Matthew Zefeldt's talk was the understanding I got of his inner process as an artist. As a student, I liked hearing about how he experiments with the basic building blocks of painting: color scale, line, form, texture, repetition(rhythm.) I also liked that he included slides of some of the art that inspires and why, and how he works with his reference points. The talk, while not intimate in its presentation, felt very personal, through his self-described comic book geekiness to his sharing of his own evaluations of his work. I loved hearing how much he loved not just to paint, but the paint itself, how glad he is to he always have fruit in his studio because it is as if he is eating his paint colors. I got that totally. I admired not just his dedication, but his seeming self-discipline and prolificness. Although the resulting work has a very free quality, I got the impression that his approach to its creation is if not methodical, at least very structured. I loved hearing about and seeing in his slides, how he moves from one thing to another, how he has a thought and starts to work with it, then how he looks at it from another direction, just a little shift; how his ideas and resultant work evolve.
The paintings that were most enticing to me, at least with this limited introduction to his work, were his earlier pieces, where he incorporated layers of comic book characters and scenes, "collaged" and abstracted. There was so much to look at there, even though the palette was mostly limited to gray-scale. I found them very intriguing and compelling, artful and sophisticated.
But Zefeldt is right now in a love affair with intense color and takes it to its limit. It is exciting, yet after a while becomes its own version of monotone. It is as if he has completely abandoned all form of subtlety. The resulting work is vibrant and happy, and especially when done on such a grand scale, has an impact, but is a little exhausting. It is impressive, but I am looking forward to him someday returning to incorporating more layers of context and subtlety.
And now about the poop. The first thing I thought when I sat down in the InFlux space was "Why would he choose that slide - one that was up on the screen for at least the 15 minutes I was there before the talk began - to have a pile of poop as one of its main elements?" (In his defense, it was a very neatly swirled pile of poop.) It was obviously intended to be provocative, though it was not until towards the end of the talk when Zefeldt spoke directly of his interest, nay, fascination with the lowly bowel movement as a subject for its form, texture and consistency. He said that he had finally told himself that if it occupied his thoughts and he was drawn to paint it, that it means he should paint it.
I am not convinced. To me it is maybe a subject to explore in one's journal, or in the studio through studies, to have as a reference point if you are intrigued, but these huge paintings, where they basically become a focal point in the composition - not so much. As a viewer, I don't need to see that. I suppose it is politically incorrect for me to say so. I feel like I am supposed to think of myself as a closed-minded prude or something, but I don't. What is the point of poop as subject matter in a painting? Because one thought about it is not enough. Sometimes I think artists need to get out of their studio and into the world a little more, that otherwise their journeys become too inward and limited in perspective. This may be one of those cases. I say new input - less output (figurative and literal) - is needed here.
Just like people don't need to (nor in many cases should) say everything that crosses their mind, they don't need to paint everything they think about either. In theory it is fine and dandy to say an artist should never limit himself, but I am not sure that is really true. There is a time and a place for everything.
May 1, 2013