Into the Deep – Delving Beneath the Surface

When viewing Matthias Meyer’s paintings, one feels oneself being drawn layer by layer into their depths. Though there is always something new to discover in the delicate gradations of color, it becomes clear that what one believes to discern or recognize is seldom unambiguous. The question of what is actually visible runs as a central theme throughout his work. Meyer begins by activating memory and inspiration with photographs he has taken himself or images from the Internet, from which he then distances himself in the process of painting. In this way he creates illusions of spatiality which, though based on photographically constructed spaces, at the same time destroy this impression. The process of taking shape and dissolving is a recurring motif in his treatment of interior spaces, cityscapes, bird’s-eye views of the land, and bodies of water seen from above and below the surface. Lake 8 (2008) for example, shows a lake from which here and there branches appear to stick out. Despite the apparent unambiguousness of the subject and the title, Meyer pushes the image to the limit of abstraction. The glazing technique he has developed results in works characterized by their many layers of sparingly applied paint and dissolving contours. In this case, the cool wetness of the lake seems to be pressing through the canvas as well as causing a vertical and horizontal blurring of the oil paint. His art explores both the texture and nature of image surfaces as well as their pictorial depth.

Meyer’s Lake series forms the transition to a new cycle of work that is distinguished by layering of different motifs into one image. Beneath what may be taken to be bodies of water, it is primarily cityscapes which are to be found, though nearly completely dissolved by layering and dissociation. The artist moves away not only from the photographic model and its real location in the world, but also from his own first translation into the medium of paint. The paintings which emerge give expression to deep spaces, with evidence of the realistic original image residing for the most part only in the deeper layers of the completed work.

In selecting the images he will work from, he is especially interested in composition and line, which he transfers to canvas to then be covered by flowing colors and forms. For Columbus Circle (2009), Water Painting 6 (2009) or Roofs (2009) for example, images of New York city provided the original material. Meyer’s choice of this metropolis is largely due to the city’s grid-like layout and the varying altitudes of its structures and planes. These linear structures and rhythms remain discernible in the deeper layers of paint. The traffic circle near Central Park in Columbus Circle thus becomes concentric waves. In Water Painting 6 there is still a trace of the building facades beyond Broadway, and in Roofs the ravines of city streets actually located to the left and right of the Empire State Building retain a subtle presence. The original image is not just formally abstracted, its content is also removed from its context. This shimmering of urban architecture below the water’s surface leads one almost automatically to think of sunken places as in the legends of Atlantis. Meyer is not so much interested in such associations as in the formal structure of the city, which in his work is merged with the layers of paint atop one another to a new and ambiguous image space.

This multi-layering results in works of darker color tones and low transparency. In Columbus Circle or Grünes Wasser (2010), in addition to the glazing technique employed in previous works, paste-like spots have been applied. The artist continues, however, in the sparing application of paint and forgoes almost completely the use of white. All light to be seen in the painting is emitted by the bright canvas at bottom. Details blur into abstract shapes as if submerged in the ocean’s depths. The observer’s point of view, which was often elevated in many earlier works, is now one that seems to lie underwater.

The original photograph behind View Down (2009) is also an image that looks down from the Empire State Building. Here Meyer abstracts not by adding layers of paint, but by means of the unusual perspective and a reserved, light palette. The original image remains thus clearer, while at the same time dissolving in a light web of lines and planes. As suggested in the title, here again the viewer feels the pull into the deep, with a view looking down from above.

Other works in the Into the Deep exhibition are not based on architectural images, but of photographs of natural landscapes that the artist came across in research using the Google Earth Internet software. One such work is Black Spur 2 (2009). The original image here is of a forest drenched in fog in an Australian nature preserve. The many light-colored spots are reminiscent of air bubbles created when diving into deep waters. The trees become algae, patches of light color become sunlight falling on the surface. Here again Matthias Meyer melds the concrete photographic original with his translation into paint and the ensuing process of abstraction, drawing the viewer’s attention into the deep.

Susanne Köhler

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