I am most inspired by realistic painters, so if you are like me in this respect you might want to skip this posting. Or, you might just want to read on and try on something new.
Matt Sesow is a Washington DC based artist. Matt’s work slaps you in the face and wakes you up like a venti cafe americano with 2 extra shots of espresso. Or at least that’s how his work affects me. I’ve been a fan of Matt’s work since I ran across it at at last year’s DC Artomatic. I bought a small painting titled Hillary and two tiny works, one titled Puking and I am uncertain what the title of the other painting is but it featured a little girl in a screaming red dress.
His work is not demure, quiet, realistic, representational or subtle in coloration. All the things that normally attract me to an artist’s work. I do not understand why his work appeals to me. But at some deep gut level I respond to it, I don’t understand why, it just does. Some of his work reminds me a bit of Bacon and some (primarily his color usage and sheer exuberance with paint) reminds me very slightly of Basquait. Very very slightly.
Although referred to as an ‘outsider artist’ I don’t consider him one for several reasons. The phrase initially referred to folks who were institutionalized (i.e., inmates of prisons or insane asylums) and later was used to denote the artist was self taught and the work was naive -something along the lines of Grandma Moses perhaps. Frankly, I do understand the current use of the word but it’s still hard to shake the more pejorative meanings associated with it’s earlier usage.
Matt is fully plugged into the DC art scene as well as other venues and shows throughout the states; his bio is quite impressive. His work has hung at Andrea Pollan’s Curator’s Office during her Mixology I show which benefited Doctors without Borders, as well as shows at the Longview Gallery in downtown Washington DC. He’s also had shows in Denver, the Hamptons, Maine, Atlanta, and San Diego CA; he maybe self-taught, but this ain’t your mother’s outsider artist.
Matt Sesow’s painting Presidents is not mine. Yes that made me a very sad Panda, I wanted it but was too slow off the mark to buy it. I think it’s phenomenal. He painted all 44 Presidents with their names and his take on them is pure genius.
Last week I met Matt in person when I stopped by his studio with a friend to look at a painting I’d seen online. I didn’t buy that one, but I walked away with quite a few others that I absolutely loved! The larger painting is an 18×18 canvas which features columns of sketched white bunnies, its aptly titled, Lost in a Crowd. For some reason one of the bunnies is circled with cadmium light red which seems to isolate the bunny even further.
Matt’s smaller works don’t necessarily photograph well, these photographs are from his website (used with permission). You lose a lot of the punch of color and brushstrokes compared to when you see them in person. I will try to take some better shots but I am afraid that the glossy black of the background will go matte and that you simply won’t get the effect of the paintings.
Matt Sesow was a wonderful and pleasant host as my friend and I ransacked his studio looking at his paintings. However, be warned: Matt’s work is difficult to see in person, its compelling, raw and emotional these are not “pretty pictures” you will walk away affected by what you’ve seen.
Matt had a very traumatic experience when he was 8 and there are times when you can clearly see the effect this had on him and his work. He was struck by an airplane propeller and he lost his arm as a result. There were several works that I would look at, then look away from and then look at again. In each case I wasn’t certain if he was referencing the events of the accident, or if he was simply playing with an image. It was difficult to tell and I hesitated to ask.
I found the painting Preacher to be extremely powerful. The whites in some parts are translucent and the orange and red scream at you to look. Despite it’s name, this painting reminded me of how I felt one time when it seemed like my world was caving in. So for me the question was does this painting attract me because it shows how the inside of a dark troubled soul is, or does the image invite me in to participate and supply my own dialogue and story line?
In the past I would have scoffed to read that last line, but again-Matt’s work requires that you bring something to the table when viewing it. You look at it, you like or even dislike it, then you have to ask yourself why. Why do I like, love or dislike it? Not matter the reaction, viewing his work will provoke you to a reaction.
Now I need to say one other thing, I am not a huge fan of modern art, especially not the likes of Basquait or Kadinsky or a host of others. I used to always joke that the phrase “contemporary art” is actually french for “I can’t draw”. I guess I simply don’t understand it although I am trying. I don’t classify Matt’s work in this vein even though it’s edgy and modern and so very open to interpretation. There is something so compelling and powerful about Matt’s work that I am drawn in in spite of my misgivings about the genre in general. Go and view his works, if you’re in DC I recommend you contact him and set up a time to view the works in person since they are best viewed in person! Contact information and directions to his studio can be found here.