Paul Matthews was a complicated artist. Sometimes an expressionist, sometimes a realist, he veered across conventional categories at will, switching back and forth from luminous portraiture to macabre narrative, and from mythological erotica to Fauve collage. In his Keene studio, all these different modes were in play. But over time, the Adirondack landscape around him began to feature more and more centrally in his work.
He loved the water-worn boulders that litter the pools below Hulls Falls. Again and again, he painted their pale, crevice-scarred surfaces looming over their current-wrinkled reflections. For anyone who knows the Ausable River, those paintings are marvels of accuracy, the bronzy undercolor of the shallow water darkening to a familiar cool olive depth that makes us ache to wade in.
He loved the big views, the pyramidal ranges glowing in sunlight or shadowed by clouds, always looking fresh and sharply immediate, never just a rehash or approximation. Most spectacularly, he loved clouds: shelves of stratus or wispy cirrus and above all towering August cumulus, dwarfing even the darkened mountains below. Majestic, even melodramatic, they seem despite their fastidious detail, almost unreal.
Rivers, mountains, skies, not to mention swimmers, flowers, and friends. This exhibition aims to give viewers a sense of the range of Matthews’ Adirondack subjects, all painted with the scrupulous fluency of someone reporting on things he loved. And what about Matthews himself? Among his most haunting works is a late self-portrait, My Heart is in Hiding. Walking towards us through a dark wilderness of brushwork, the artist cups his hand to his ear, as if to hear something we are saying. It’s a painting of remarkable modesty and vulnerability. His body is dissolving, but Matthews is still looking, still listening, still doing what he loved to do: paying attention.
“Paul Matthews ~ An Adirondack Artist” is on exhibition at the Adirondack History Museum, in Elizabethtown, from May 28th to October 8th. The exhibit is curated by Frissie Reed. Essay by Alexi Worth. A Gallery Celebration will be held on July 15th at 5 pm and is open to the public.