Artist of the Week

Jeffrey Scott Mathews

April 5, 2011

Originally from Detroit, Jeffrey Scott Mathews lives and works in Brooklyn.  He received his BFA in photography from the College of Creative Studies and his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I make process oriented paintings which engage what I would describe as a philosophical approach to formalism.

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? For a little over a year, I have been painting with a material called bismuth which is a heavy metal with a low melting point. The material forms crystals as it cools, which allows for organic growth to occur after the painting gesture. In addition to working with the bismuth I have been working with markers and pigments that soak into the substrate by way of chemical or liquid dispersion, creating a kind of “color-burn”. Almost every process I initiate allows for the intuitive to be disrupted by a phenomenological or natural occurrence.

How has your work developed within the past year? I have been stitching and sewing distressed materials together for the past 6 months in a process similar to quilting. I struggle with finding language for this more recent work, but i think i was inspired by shaker aesthetics and what i suppose could be called formal asceticism. I read an interview with Phillip Guston recently in which he attributed a quote to John Cage: “I believe it was John Cage who once told me, ‘When you start working, everybody is in your studio—the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas—all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you’re lucky, even you leave.” I think this quote aptly summarizes what I am after in general, which is basically trying to find a way to generate work that transcends ego.

What artists are you interested in right now? I was happy to discover the work of Otto Piene this past summer. In all serious objectivity, my girlfriend Tracy Thomason is crushing it right now. Stephen Parrino, my friend Joshua Abelow just had a phenomenal solo show @ James Fuentes LLC, Hilary Berseth, Mark Hagen, Meghan Petras… really too many to name. I was also recently very inspired by Mira Schor‘s book titled “A Decade of Negative Thinking,” the highlight being the essay entitled “Modest Painting.”

How has living in New York affected your art practice? Although I currently live in Brooklyn, I think the post-apocalyptic rust-belt realities of Detroit have given shape to my appreciation of fucked up formalism. I believe in creating work that fosters an appreciation of the beauty of failed (human-generated) systems and the residue they produce. The chronology of the erosion of the urban environ, the eventual flight of the oppressive overclass and the civilian effort to appropriate the industrial shell which is left behind allows for a model of hope after destruction. To me, this narrative exists as a perfect analog to phenomenology in lieu of existentialism; that there is an inherent organization to destruction and decay.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I am working on a proposal for a project space in LA. If the project is realized, I will be re-enacting Richard Serra’s lead throws with molten bismuth.

What is one the bigger challenges you and/or other artists are struggling with these days, and how do you see it developing? I think the overt professionalization of the artist has stunted any possibility of a new wave of the avant-garde developing. I am conflicted by the potential elitism of artistic practice and the generation of a privileging discourse that represses any possibility of real empathy. I think we have reached our time-wave zero, omega point or whatever and that we are doomed to a cacophony of cynical behavior acting as progressive ideology. I struggle with how to make works of art in a world where capitalist greed perpetuates wars for corporate profit while creating a permanent underclass and promoting anti-intellectual pride.

If you had one wish what would it be? That I don’t come off as a total pessimistic curmudgeon in this exercise!

What do you do when you’re not working on art? I have been recording music under the name Harsh Terrain for a while and I will be releasing a CD-R at the end of March in an edition of 25. The album is titled Detroit Police and consists of grimy analog synthesizer vibes and weird dark alley soul. You can check out some tracks on my website.

What were you like in high school? In high school I was a trouble-making diplomat, known to many, but close with very few. I wore headphones all the time and ate hallucinogens in woodshop. I listened to obscure underground hip-hop, skateboarded and wrote tons of graffiti under the name POKE-1.

Top 3 favorite or most visited websites and why?  YOU HAVE BEEN HERE SOMETIME, which is authored by a gentlemanly designer named David John who is based in LA. I love his taste as well as his poetic ruminations. I also loved that he reached out to me for an interview! I always go to MUTANT SOUNDS for obscure music and the subsequent rabbit-hole of a blogroll for myriad postings of outsounds. And lastly, for laughs and general wrongness I visit either Weird Dude Energy or Don’t Dad.