Text and Photos by Katarina Hybenova
Biking down to the studio of Bushwick painter Matthew Miller, I felt like I have more questions that information. Mathew lives right above The Narrows, which used to be Pocket Utopia, he adds immediately as if he wanted to underline the sanctity of what used to be a legendary art pop-up gallery lead by Austin Thomas.
Matthew Miller is a likable peaceful guy, polite, and friendly who never speaks too much nor too little. He likes to go out to see the art shows in Bushwick. With his conservative look, he is nothing like a Bushwick hipster, actually quite to the contrary; he likes to wear dress pans with dress shoes, and a simple white t-shirt.
As I lock my bike and follow him up the stairs to his studio, I can’t wait to see how and if his newest works changed since the huge wave of media interest in Matthew’s person. Virtually every prime art publication in the country rushed to review his recent solo show at Famous Accountants, a DIY gallery developed in the basement of a Ridgewood house. Matthew opens the door of the a small neat studio, which serves also as a bedroom; the air-conditioner is silently buzzing, cooling off the space to the perfect temperature, the floor is wiped clean, the books are straighten in a bookshelf. Matthew probably noticing my surprise excuses the perfectly clean room by saying that he can’t paint in a mess. After reading about Matthew’s work in New York Times I was expecting, maybe a little bit more of fanciness, but I received a portion of Bushwick reality where artists are leading double lives, the first life, the necessary one at a day job from 9 to 5; then the second one in the evenings and early mornings, creating, planning, showing in galleries, being reviewed by New Criterion.
One entire wall is covered with brown paper, but not a single drop of paint has touched it. That’s Matthew’s painting area. Wood panels are leaning against the wall; one of them is being worked on. It is a painting of Matthew’s head on the black background, not dramatically different from the 8 self-portraits exhibited at Famous Accountants. “This one has the nose sticking slightly to the side, I have never painted it like that, so it’s interesting.” Matthew says. I feel like I am slowly exploding with questions: Why the black background? Why the self-portraits? What emotions, are if any are the heads going through? And lastly what is the message he’s trying to convey?
“Technically, it’s not a black background.” Matthew starts patiently. “It’s more like a space to stimulate one’s imagination. It’s like looking into an open door against bright sun. You know that there are things inside of the door, but you can’t see any. Just like the name of the Famous Accountants show: the magic black of an open barn door on a really sunny summer day, when you just cannot see into it”
Matthew continues to shatter my previous ideas about the motives behind his work. “In fact, I don’t like to look at these as at self-portraits. They are not personal. I just used my face, because that’s the face I know the best. So it’s just a person who looks like me. ”
I am happy to discover that Matthew doesn’t always paint only portraits of himself; he shows me a portrait of a black guy, and a golden-haired woman, both painted the same way, on a wood panel with a black background. Matthew explains that he didn’t show these alongside the portraits of himself at Famous Accountants, because it could mislead the viewer even more, who would then might have been tempted to think about who are those other people, and what is the relationship between them and Matthew. Matthew says that that’s absolutely not the way he wants to go, and that he is only interested in exploration of portraiture, and the interaction of the viewer and the painting. He purposely paints his portraits with a neutral face expression, which according to him stimulates viewer’s imagination way more than a particular emotion, however strong it might be. “Every one knows that it’s not just a painting, not a person they are looking at. You can’t enter their space for example.”
“Aren’t you scared that your subconsciousness might ruin this pure portrait exploration, and bring in something you wouldn’t expect. Like an emotion?” I am curious. “No, subconsciousness is welcomed. ” Matthew says with a smile.