Capturing the Flow

Fusion in the painting of Matthias Meyer

The experience of the world as transient, with change itself “the only real constant” since “everything is in flux”, is one shared by humankind throughout the ages. Even from a more or less conservative point of view one might hold, as Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote in The Leopard, that: “All things must change in order to stay the way they are.” Pictures, though, arrest the flow—they capture a reality as it is, but then very soon only was. They hold a reality that is being, making the tense of a picture that of the “motionless present”, warding off the past but also the future. In the face of death and impermanence, pictures (and especially portraits) have often been highly valued for their ability to preserve the people depicted in them in the thoughts and mind of the viewer. This was once and still is, at times, held up as an ideal for pictures and for art itself.

But ideals change, too. That pictures which depict the fleeting, the impermanent, the non-eternal no longer cause an uproar is explained in part by the modern times we live in and the modern period in art and thinking. In modernism, times are always new, and the sign of this age is the rush of velocity. Quick progress is the goal. The first to represent this particularly modern aspect of life in pictures were the impressionists. They dissolved their paintings into broken brushstrokes and flecks of paint that reflected the ever-changing play of light, breaking from the tradition of striving for a smooth and controlled surface in painting. They were among the first to depict the metropolis as a wonder of technical ingenuity (with its steam locomotives and taut bridges of steel) yet also the isolation of the modern individual. In those days, toward the end of the 19th century, the modern period was still young.

By now modernism has aged. Matthias Meyer is a young painter taking a fresh look at modernist subjects: the metropolis, the engineering wonders, and the people who live with them. He uses colors that are characterized by strong contrasts of light and dark, pastel-like, and reminiscent of French color schemes—light pink, blue, violet, petrol—with numerous finely nuanced sand and brown tones. Like the impressionists, Meyer also declines to depict the hard and fast surfaces of the material world. His paintings show us a world that is more fluid, even rippling, as if on some magical screen on the surface of an undulating pool. There is a pervasive sense of peacefulness and at the same time an inexplicable unrest, as if in a strange dream. This quiet restlessness is reflected in the techniques the artist uses: he allows his thinned paints to run down the canvas, giving the impression more of ink than of oil. In his work, the running paint is not a dislocated motif that happens to have found its way into his style, but is rather the very fabric of his images. While working he turns the canvas at 90° angles, so that the paint drips and runs in lines parallel to both the horizontal and vertical borders of the painting. Like fine strands of roots, the rivulets cling to the two dimensions of the painting’s surface, as if this instance of reality had to be anchored and sustained. Intersecting in places, they reflect the buildings and structures that so often figure in Meyer’s work, by repeating the basic coordinates of built space and the grid work of modern window facades, though stopping short of the statically fixed order of architecture. The longing for tangibility remains unfulfilled. In more thickly layered patches of oil, reality appears blurred and sideswiped, captured only with effort, almost slipping from and barely held in a tenuous grasp. The pace of modern life has accelerated, and one must look at things calmly in order to recognize the risk of being consumed by a future which is ever less likely to come about. It is the young among us who sense that the old dream of the modern remains. What happens when our images begin to slip and slide away from us? The paintings of Matthias Meyer make it clear that we need the eyes of our artists now more than ever.

(Daniel Spanke)

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