Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Solo: From Dawn to Dusk

Updated November 18, 2019

My 35th career solo, From Dawn to Dusk, took place at ODETTA Gallery in New York City for five weeks in October and November. Curated by Ellen Hackl Fagan, the exhibition featured 15 paintings installed in an arrangement that suggested the mutable light during a period from sunup to sundown. This is the first time that a chromatic narrative was ascribed to my Silk Road series, but I enjoyed the association because color and light are the inspiration for these small formal color fields. 

Full installation view
The theatrical space prompts me to think of these as 15 color field paintings in one act

Above: Angle views of left and right sides, respectively
Below: Paintings missing from the angle shot
All paintings encaustic on panel, 18 x 18 inches
Above, on left side of installation: Silk Road 464, 2019 
Below, on right side of installation: Silk Road 469, 2019

Below: Angle views from left side of the back wall . . .
. . . and from right side of that wall, with additional images below

Silk Road 423, 2018-2019

Silk Road 458, 2019

Silk Road 468, 2019

Silk Road 462, 2019

Silk Road 463, 2019

The exhibition catalog, which contains a curator's essay 
and my own statement about the work, features images 
from the exhibition with some detail views. 
Viewable online at no charge, it is also
available for purchase.

Ellen Hackl Fagan, an accomplished artist in her own 
right, is not only the curator of this show, she is the 
director of ODETTA gallery, which is located 
within the 1stdibs exhibition space in Chelsea. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

I did it! I wrote a memoir

"A personal pleasure and a professional revelation." 

--Sharon Butler, Two Coats of Paint

Just out: The November issue of The Art Section, published by Deanna Sirlin, contains Sirlin's interview with me. This online magazine focuses as much on artists as on art. You can read the interview here, but spend some time with the rest of the issue too. 

Like many people I have lived with a lifetime of personal stories that have replayed occasionally, and somewhat out of focus, in my mind's eye. I never expected to share them, but when I published a blog post about my  Italian family--an emotional response to the presidential demonization of immigrants--I unwittingly opened the floodgates of more specific recollection. I then spent six months at the keyboard pulling everything out of myself, remembering long-forgotten details and grappling with the sometimes long-buried feelings that accompanied them. I've probably revealed too much, but what's the point of censoring a life freely lived? The book is published by Well-Fed Artist Press (that would be me) and is available in print and in digital format.

Two Lovely Reviews, a Harvard admission, and an Interview

SHARON BUTLER, writing in TWO COATS OF PAINT, has said some very nice things about Vita: A Memoir. You can read the full review on her blog, but here's an excerpt:

"Artists tend to remember their early years hazily, as a mix of crazy optimism, financial uncertainty, and an unquestioning faith in the importance of making art. But Mattera is precise, laser-focused, and unusually candid. Her stories are not only colorful and endearing; they also explain the directions she has taken in the studio, and plumb her preoccupation with color, surface, and minimalist seriality. As she demonstrates so vividly, these phenomena are rooted in lived experiences. Powered by a native passion for truth and art, hers have been fascinating and fulfilling." Read more.



Among the many wonderful notes I have been receiving from 
(mostly artists) who have read the book, came this note from 
Philip Gerstein: "The Harvard University Libraries now own 
your book, in the collection of the Fine Arts Library."


ROBERT WHITCOMB, writing in GoLocalProvidence offers a short and more local take. I've posted the screen grab below. I particularly like this line: "Her story, often told with hilarious deadpan humor, displays her drive and growing confidence as a painter and writer and, well, person."

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Mothers of Invention: Frida Kahlo

Nickolas Muray, Frida on White Bench, 1939

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón (1907-1954) was a larger-than-life figure—even if she appeared diminutive in photographs—who wore, quite literally, a multitude of identities: mesclada with European and Tehuana roots, artist, reluctant Surrealist, fervent communist. She lived with debilitating pain and limited movement, the result of childhood polio and a trolley accident in adolescence that sent a handrail through her lower torso; had a messy but enduring relationship with a much-older, and initially more famous, husband; and had numerous affairs with women and men. All of that is reflected, like the flowers she intertwined into the braids of her hair, in the current exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Plus there are some very fine paintings.  


This is the second exhibition mounted by the Brooklyn Museum that focuses on the accoutrements of a woman artist’s life. Whereas the Georgia O’Keefe show seemed infuriatingly like a W magazine feature (I saw it at the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts, not in Brooklyn), this one did not. While in principle I'd prefer that museums focus exclusively on the art, in Frida Kahlo: Appearances can be Deceiving, you experience her compelling story as well as her art. Moreover, many of the artifacts on exhibition have not been seen before. From her death in 1954 until 2004, some 15 years after Diego Rivera’s death, they had been locked away in Casa Azul at the direction of her chubby hubby. You have to wonder: Was he feeling overshadowed?

Let me take you around.

The exhibition opens with digitized films of Frida at her blue-painted home in Mexico City, Casa Azul. Throughout the exhibition are additional films that include views of Mexico City in the early years of the 20th Century and a tour of Casa Azul, with its gardened courtyard and interior with art and artifacts. Mexicanidad, the Mexican identity that included indigenous roots on her mother’s side, loomed large, as did her relationship with her husband, Diego Rivera

 There were many such installations of photos, drawings, and letters. These are photographs of the young Frida taken by her father, Guillermo, who made his living as a photographer. The adolescent Frida often helped him in the studio. The idea has been advanced that Frida was well aware of  the kinds kinds of poses that were the most dramatic. She certainly played well to the camera

 In the first gallery we are greeted with this Tehuana costume, with its dramatic resplandor, a lace or starched cotton headdress that frames the face

Self Portrait as a Tehuana (Diego in My Thoughts), 1943

Moving around the gallery, we see the portrait accompanied by photographs of Tehuana women  wearing the resplandor. Film clips in the exhibition suggest that this traditional headdress was worn only for ceremonial occasions

Entrance to the next gallery with Frida's Self Portrait with Monkeys, 1943, shown larger below

Self Portrait, 1941

Las aparencias engañan, the drawing that gave the exhibition its name: Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Beneath the loose huipiles were casts or corsets; the flowing skirts drew attention away from Frida's shorter right leg, her limp, and eventually the prosthetic she wore after the amputation

Two corsets with the self portrait and drawing shown above

Below: A painted plaster cast depicting a broken column. After Frida's many surgeries, when she was lying in bed, a mirror affixed overhead allowed her to paint. Like Ginger Rogers, who famously danced "backwards in high heels," Frida painted in reverse and upside down

Self Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940

Wearing a too-large suit, perhaps Diego's, Frida depicts the aftermath of a self-inflicted haircut. This likely followed a breakup with Diego. The superscript comes from the words of a song popular at the time: Look, if I loved you, it was because of your hair. Now that you're bald, I do not love you anymore

Self Portrait with Braid, 1942

Lucienne Bloch, Frida at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel, 1933

Many photographers captured Frida over the years, including Bloch, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Lola Alvarez Bravo, Tina Modotti, and Nickolas Muray. Here Frida sits beneath a self portrait that is posted below

Self Portrait, 1933

 Two views of the  gallery in which Frida's costumes are displayed.
Above, the view as you enter; below the view looking toward the front

 Coming around to the front of the figure shown above, we have a better view of the costume, as well as of the photographs in which she is shown wearing a similar garment

Nickolas Muray, Frida in New York, 1946; printed 2006
Frida called the United States "Gringolandia," but she loved New York City and San Francisco

In 1953 Frida's right leg was amputated, the result of gangrene from childhood polio

Below: Her right leg was shorter, so her shoes were built up to compensate

Nickolas Muray, Frida Kahlo with Olmec Figurine, 1939

Frida Kahlo died on July 13, 1954.  Hayden Herrera, in  her brilliant monograph,  Frida Kahlo: The Paintings (Harper Collins, 1991), closes with this story about the artist: "Eight days before she died, she added a finishing touch to her last painting, a still life that pits the crimson pulp of chopped and sliced watermelon against the life/death duality of a half dark, half light sky. The painting both welcomes death and defies it with alegria.  One last time Frida dipped her brush into red paint and inscribed her name . . . on the foremost slice. Then in large capital letters, she wrote the motto whose invocatory force makes both her art and legend live: VIVA LA VIDA, she said, LONG LIVE LIFE."

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving is at the Brooklyn Museum through May 11. Entry is by timed ticket, and tickets are largely sold out. Check the museum's website for more information.

All photos courtesy of The Brooklyn Museum