June 17th – september, 13th, 2015 opening reception on tuesday june, 16th, 2015 from 6p.m
Catalog to appear following the exhibition in the collection ["Mes pas à faire au Creux de l’enfer"], with text from Marc Desgrandchamps.
Matt Bollinger, Destiny’s survivors
by Frédéric Bouglé, January 2015
If Paris is the only city in the world where the river flows between two libraries (1), for Matt Bollinger the library and the book are the emblematic figures of his current painting. It is in an American urban periphery that the artist plants his easel, the Book being the cornerstone of the investigation. More than an escape tunnel for the imagination, the book-object is a life-saving medium, creating a bridge stretched between what is painted and what is written. This New York painter born in 1980 haloes his work with a strange romantic beauty, a sort of spleen-like enchantment, fleurs du mal whose leaves have been plucked with an enigmatic camouflage effect. Yet, his work reflects the state of being of youth who—experiencing a cultural void and observing the society—are confronted by the effects of economic stagnation going back more than a decade.
Matt Bollinger’s brush stroke—undefinable tiny scales—shows his vision of the world, dressing it in torn painted strips. His parquet technique of collaged paper responds to the life of his models and takes up their theater of life, a lacerated formulation much like the crisis which strikes them. These portraits of adolescents and young adults are glued forever to the gouached supports where they are created. At the restless age where the future should be calling to them, here there is no occasion to take off. Underprivileged American teenagers, precarious middle class or petit-bourgeois, all are submerged holding their breath in a closed universe. A Claude Lévêque or Cildo Meireles universe. The sun devours or commemorates painting—exterior scenes already written, interior scenes barely proscribed—describing the same world with the finest of black lines. Its pale light becomes one with shadow (the yellowish halo of a supernatural reality) when its predatory omnipotence erases the image with a cruel white beacon.
Clasto-réalisme (destroy-realism) for an unchosen future
These are so many paintings of kids staving off their boredom, and nothing is happening, nothing to do after high school other than to let yourself go drinking and smoking. In this tight-netted trap, it’s difficult to see things in an optimistic light; everything is too disappointing, and nothing is, as little as it may be, paying. And yet it is here that the artist draws life’s hot colors ! Ten years before Matt Bollinger was born, his father was attacked at knifepoint. Matt’s grandmother would exorcise the memory of this trauma by slipping him a sketch book while still in grade school. This painted youth—rural and urban milieux—has equivalents in other continents (see the film La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz). Submerged in a postcrisis/subprimes atmosphere, everyone is swept up by the roll of a force which carries us along. Under a dreamy sky the color of a blue dixie-cup, unemployment with its fatal numbness and depressing humor, plunges even the healthiest people in a sick torpor. Everyone navigates by sight, and only a privileged few and clever ones escape, they are destiny’s survivors. Painting remains, a Fahrenheit 451 remains, a library for souls from another age. Literary works offer their yellowed paper, a mine of exploration to dig, the back side to cross out, the front to draw upon, the typography to renew (2). When one has the age for apprenticeships, and the grass is still long, hardy colors are born, which create an adult for a hypothetical tomorrow. “Yesterday we still played in a cave,” three young miracle men were amazed to say, stringed instruments in hand. In this new-age tempo subversion is déclassée: postpunk, neo-bab and retrofuturism mix in the same clasto-réalisme (destroy-realism) of an unchosen future.
Magnetic and lunar ambiance
This accidented daily life made of banality, as seen by Matt Bollinger, gets tied up to dawn, toward a life of romanced colors. The protagonists sometimes go off track, extra muros day faraway zone; indoor night close-up. Once the sun has gone down, the screen is unfolded. Painting then spreads its fragmented tales as a theater of shadows, a thriller made from unfinished bits. In this scenic amplitude, the artist expresses himself in half-words and single words, between the flash bulbs of Larry Clark and an opaque metaphysics, like Alain Resnais. The decors shown conform to the sociological description of an inhabited milieu, young people isolated or in groups, at times feverish, at times resigned: serene scenes, adolescent ordeals, simple and naive games, a magnetic and lunar ambiance. Some shots outside the frame look askew, details referring to other clues: a can of soda or of beer, a living room with furniture, ashtray and bedroom, natural light and artificial light lamppost.
Some may remember...
Some may remember, along with Federico Fellini, of the film I Vitelloni [The Young and the Passionate], or in the same Italian neo-realist of the 1950’s vein, of Sciusciá by Vittorio de Sica [Shoeshine]. The subject treats of the post-war generation, idle young people in an unemployed context, often a wink to the times and lives of the directors. For Fellini it is his home town Rimini on the Adriatic coast, for Vittorio de Sica it is Rome; for Matt Bollinger it is Kansas City, Missouri during the 2000’s. Here too are mixed a critical look back on a close generation (or even acquaintances left behind) both and a form of nostalgia and tenderness. The titles of his paintings such as Odd Jobs (2014), Odd Jobs Blues (2014) or Mayhem (2014) speak for themselves. Let us recall again the novel by Pier Paolo Pasolini Les Ragazzi—a book which was vilified and judged for obscenity in 1955—and adapted in 1959 by Mauro Bolognini as The Big Night [La Notte Brava]. No adults are present here either, rather, there are young protagonists in an upside-down utopia. While Rossellini filmed “ordinary people,” Pasolini aims at a class and a generation one rung lower, that youth populating peripheral neighborhoods and suburbs. No positive heroes, no social perspectives on display here, and moral conduct and mores are more instinctive than educated. It is a way of existing, a lively and spontaneous transgression. Misunderstood by all, this course form of rebellion validates however its human expression in the pre-political reflex of an outcast fringe.
Boredom as action, source of excess and creation
Like the black and white photos collected between 1965 and 1975 by Christopher Wool, the paintings of Matt Bollinger place their stakes on a reality that is amputated from objectivity. His evocation of a temporal framework connected to the scene points even more to his stressing of daily life. His tomorrows are like yesterday, bland and vacant, and this time is cyclical, without high-points or bearings but with sudden intensities. The graphic language used—effects created by the lines—spins the cycles of time in clipped rhythms. Sometimes electric, sometimes relaxed, the gesture always remains energetic in its acquired mastery, going from emphatic black to the whitest whites. The life of the lines is a tormented locution. As in Stranger than Paradise by Jim Jarmush, the theme of boredom—a source of unhealthy excesses as much as creation—is the first catalyst of the action. The spatial frame dwells upon closed spaces, surfaces/screens. Other shots are inexorably blocked by a chain-link fence or even a padlocked chain, futures and horizons that are closed.
Waiting for what happens next where the worst can happen
The dappled light of the full moon, the blinding light of headlights, the wan light of lampposts, shine upon nature and vacant lots, in an undefined ambiance: an interior sketch or outside at night, cloakroom, bedroom, living room or other sites of ordinary life. As in film noir—an historic genre from the 1940’s and 50’s—hypnagogic lighting, foggy light, tight shots confirm insecurity and danger. The narration of the paintings, installations and drawings, take on a cinematographic hook waiting for what happens next where the worst can happen. For the rest, the canvases or large sheets of paper are pinned freely, directly to the walls, most of the time unframed or held with drawing clamps, acting like an improvised and precarious decor. When horizontal, panoramic or cinemascope, the viewpoint is anamorphic and the framework alternated, actions are frozen in a choppy sequence. Other installations will require the juxtaposition of several formats, with triptychs out of synch, elements in which the narrative coherence is broken.
Ordinary postures and uninhibited saturnalia
In the scenes framed by Matt Bollinger, the subjects are sometimes linked to other unidentified actors who remain outside the frame. This presence in proximity will be found in the shelter formed by a blinding light, in a reflection in polluted water or in the position of the viewer, biasing the gaze toward another exterior. As for the graphic expression, it points to the sexual center of what is represented. While in their central placement on the canvas or paper, the young scout with glasses, the forsaken guy with beard, the young man with a baseball cap, the kid drinking from a can display themselves conspicuously, the same characters appear less central and more blurry when, visibly disinhibited, they participate in saturnalia where the taboo comes at the end of the evening.
The ludicrous enigma of process
Matt Bollinger’s practice is put in service of the expressive ambiance he seeks, and his pictorial and graphic gestures rest upon a self-assured academic workmanship. Yet, under this seductive and balanced representation, operates a confused misunderstanding, a kind of technical mumbo jumbo—an artistic blurring that is either mage or sorcerer—that originates in the means employed. What do we see exactly wavering in the background? Is it painting? Is it collage? It is an ambiguity that obliges us to scrutinize the very surface of the painting and examine it close up. But taken at this approach point, the ludicrous enigma of still escapes us. This retinal confusion, generating a kind of ornament, a kind of warping of colored papers, mixed with paint, reassess the assemblage construction. The technique refers, in part, to Décollage sur toile by Mimo Rotella (1960’s) “when—so thought the artist at the time—everything in painting had been done.” With Matt Bollinger, painting innovates again, and to its advantage. Is it for him exactly about reviving art from its postmodern exhaustion? Isn’t it even more about feeling the plastic experience of classical figuration? His practice emancipates not only from the most referred to historical pictorial principles, but it grants him a substantial depth, a sensitive thickness as added value.
A single tactile and retinal vocation
The use of cut papers and collage—such as Matt Bollinger uses them here—adds in fact to the act of painting that of a nuanced treatment of bumps and hollows, paper matter on painted matter. Joining another medium to painting, when the paper support becomes pictorial material and the pictorial material the support of the paper, with the aim of finding an equivalent experience for convergent materials. The same goes for the theme of the Book which appears as a tautology: the colors of the paper mimicking closely the texture of the cover or spine of an old book. We see that the Book as an object—in contrast to digital reading—offers a tactile sensation, each page is turned by the finger while reading. The painted paper opens towards touching, an art with a haptic dimension. This is at least how the futurist Marinetti or the dadasopher Raoul Hausmann would have expressed it (3). These torn papers are prepared in advance by the artist, painted in flat single colors. The tones themselves correspond to a hostile palette with colors too strong. The paper is cut/torn in bits, a pictorial medium in pieces, a kind of polymorphic and polydimensional confetti of several square centimeters (4). Nothing is however round or regular, rather the scattered pieces form a kind of crocodile skin pattern. Placed on the canvas, they form a lightly crackled surface—like a surface of dried paint coming loose in small fragments. In an orchestrated additive synthesis, the work then forms a veritable reconstituted puzzle. This arrangement that imitates its concept all the while differentiating itself from it—let us think especially of impressionism, to tachisme and to Italian macchiaiole—is affirming itself here in a principle of elevating representation, like bubbles in hot water forming at the bottom and rising to the surface in order to burst in the foreground. The principle, like that of carpets, points to a mixed and versatile pictorial/sculptural construction, juxtaposing the two media towards a split single use, both tactile and retinal.
Figure-fragmented skin of colors
Thus, paint deposited on colored/torn/glued paper mixes to such a degree that the meaning slips between our fingers. It would be better to skim the surface of a carnal hinge in order to uncovers its secret. In fact, construction and narration maintain the same mystery, thus questioning as much the status of the image as the singularity of the process, upsetting our perceptive habits and raising our curiosity. Что дѣлать?[What is to be Done?] Lenin entitled his 1902 treatise. The artist today appropriates artistic concerns that have remained open between painted matter and paper material, between paint spreading, trace, gesture, texture, color and the exhibited word that is distanced or camouflaged. Matt Bollinger treats his painting deeply, like his characters do their future, which is marked in advance. The image gains by this treatment with emotional potential, a consistent figure in metarelief with a very strange skin of fragmented colors.
1. Jean Dutourd, referring to the booksellers on the banks of the Seine. In The booksellers are to Paris what the gondoliers are to Venice, by Jérôme Callais, president of the A.C.B.P. The word “bouquin” goes back to the end of the seventeenth century naming works that had little monetary value. La Corne de Brume, review of CRAM, research center on unknown authors, directed by Bernaud Baritaud.
2. Renovations, 2015. Edition of 50 by Matt Bollinger in collaboration with Anne Weber, 18 x 13 cm. This edition was created by a process of whitening out an old book (white correcting fluid Tipp-Ex) implies a specific creative principle—like all of Matt Bollinger’s works moreover—namely to effectuate by a specific methodology (a visual trick that can include the colophon): a creative transfer, thus innovating a new work based upon another eponymous one (in the cut-up spirit of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs). Here, an enigma between a deceased father and his son. The words of the last page are evocative: two words–coexist–one, goes into the other; and vice versa.
3. Marinetti’s futurism included, in his 1921 manifesto “Presentismo”, the principle of “tactilism”, which claims “the enlargement and conquest of all our senses,” while the “dadasopher” Raoul Hausmann professed during those same years a “haptic art” enhancing man’s sense of touch.
4. Let us consider the expression “to make confetti” which means “to cut up small bits of paper.” But confetti also signifies a kind of tenderness and festive pleasure. In the United States, throwing confetti goes back to the inauguration of the Statue of Liberty, 28 October 1886. Ever since, each Ticker-tape parade implies innumerable confetti thrown joyfully by Americans. And “When Paris has fun, confetti comes alive, pink, white, blue, gray butterflies...”, is a little song dedicated in 1895 to Borney et Desprez, the Parisian inventors of confetti.
With the support of Galerie Zürcher Paris/New York.
Matt Bollinger is born in 1980 at Kansas city. He lives and work at Peekskill, New-York.
The video of the interview of the artist with the curator is directed by Claire Berbey.