Royal College of Art, Londen
2009 Alison Jacques Gallery, Londen (solo)
2007 Size Matters: XS - Recent Small-Scale Paintings - HVCCA - Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill, New York
2006 Emily Tsingou Gallery, Londen
Fragment catalogustekst (Robbert Roos)
Mathew Weir is een 'klassieke' schilder. Minutieus schildert hij Victoriaanse porseleinen beeldjes na, gecombineerd met bloemstillevens uit de zeventiende eeuw en fragmenten van landschappen van oude meesters. Soms blijven de beeldjes tegen een monochrome, zwarte achtergrond staan. Door de precieze, nogal decoratieve schilderstijl en de enscenering tussen weelderige bloempracht, zorgt Weir voor een fraai spanningsveld tussen esthetische verleiding en inhoudelijke gruwelijkheid, gezien de lading achter de anekdotiek van de Victoriaanse beeldjes (van de dood tot racistische clichés, die in die tijd heel gewoon werden gevonden).
(1) In his minutely observed paintings Mathew Weir sources images of 19th and 20th century ceramic figurines and dioramas and relocates them in landscape settings, collaged together using an archive of sourced imagery. Weir's earlier paintings featured a range of Georgian an Victorian ceramics, some depicting black males, through which Weir explored notions of difference, fear and voyeurism. By removing visual elements from their historical context Weirurges the viewer to reconsider the meanings we instinctively attach to them and creates an ambiguity between subject and intention. Each painting deals in a violence that is concealed o diverted through painterly beauty. The floral ambiguity clusters and decorative elements from flemish still-life painting that frame these shiny and naive objects point to further layers of coding.
(2) Charlotte Sinclair ‘Small is beautiful’, fragment: 'Towards the end of the 20th century, artworks got bigger, explains Whitechapel gallery director Iwona Blazwick. Now, instead of artists creating a window onto another world, the windows have become portals into what's happening inside their heads. Take for example the work of Mathew Weir, on show this month at the Emily Tsingou gallery. His tiny intricate oil paintings take a month to complete. The depict ceramic figures from a less enlightened era - black-and-white minstrels and Uncle Tom - in pastoral scenes, the Fragonard style offset by the sense of threat present in the slick surface of the figurines, the vivid colours, the serpentine ribbon that hangs from a little girl's waist. The painting's unsettling effect is exaggerated rather than diminished by their scale. 'I'm interested in the idea of something that is violent and uncomfortable which is then painted with detail so that it becomes attractive' Weir explains. 'It was never a conscious decision to paint small but I didn't want to make these heavily charged objects seem heroic'.
(3) Pablo Lafuente; There is something very disturbing about MW's paintings. First, there are those figurines, glossy karikaturale figuren, that depict crippled jugglers playing the violin, dolllike girls standing on the knees of grown men, little black boy looking inside toilet cubicles . . . They belong to an old, affected world, a past from which they have been recuperated and repainted, as if the artist was trying to cover up the effects of time. Then there are the backgrounds, those detailed allegorical landscapes, populated by flowers, trees and mountains. They are as lush as the figures, but somehow more naïve, as if the had always been that way. Somehow, it seems that the innocence promised by the idyllic tones of one is denied by colonial tints and sexual elements of the other.
The tension between figure and background is not just narrative, but also formal; the figures look like they have been unnatureally collaged into the landscapes; they don't belong there. The life-size figurines seem trapped in the relatively small paintings. The inappropriate scales, the unmatching surfaces and styles, the contrived stillness and the violence of the saturated colors are contrasts that provide the structure form Weir's paintings. And, possibly as a result of that, the effect the images have is also contradictory; they are as repulsive as they are precious, as empty as they are seductive.
(4) Craig Burnett, Breaking God's heart, bespreking groepstentoonstelling, fragment: MW completes the room with his small black canvases, looking like sinister icons. The subjects are small porcelain pieces that the artist collects, and, in this show at least, the objects are hoary clichés of Africans in bug-eyed innocence and full of would-be savagery. Dish (2003), a painting of an actual soap dish in the artist's collection, shows a fleshy vessel, from which rises a leg that a men gives a panicky bite. While the bared theeth recall the skull's teeth in Boot Hill, the image also brings to mind Goya's Saturn tearing a chunk of flesh off one of his children. The other two paintings of the same sculpture - a black man with a little white girl - draw attention to his use of paint, which is thin yet ? and glossy, not unlike the surface of a Glenn Brown painting. These are the most powerfull objects in the show, calling attention to their own surface, and to a host of charged queries into the ownership of images.
(5) Weir 'Utilising historic sources, my paintings explore sexuality, violence and reace. The often politically incorrect nature of the objects choose to paint is highlighted and exploited through my appropriation and painterly manipulations. My paintings draw attention to how the meaning of objects changes when rendered in paint and re-interpeted within a contemporary context. I want to create paintings that appear both seductive and grotesque, which are menacing yet still and calm. The paintings shift between a subtle dark humour and extreme violence'.
(6) Mei 2005, review Emily Tsingou Gallery, London door Tom Morton:
Paint, as a substance, aspires to flatness. In the can it resolves itself into a level surface, while in the tube or on the brush or palette the forms it takes are perfunctorily three-dimensional and always dream of their own undoing. It is the painter that makes paint a thing of texture, pushing it this way and that on the support until, scabbed and beginning to dehydrate, it becomes something of meaning. The flatness that this process denies paint is not the flatness of the photograph or of the film screen (both of which welcome their status as windows), but rather that of a cloudless blue sky – appearing infinite while concealing the further infinity of space.
In Mathew Weir’s work paint attains the planar, but at a terrible cost. His canvases are populated by early 19th-century ceramic figurines of black men, all of whom sport the thick red lips, bulging white eyes and polished, pitch-dark skin of racist caricature. Inhabiting a rural idyll that’s part Thomas Gainsborough, part spectroscopic Pre-Raphaelite landscape painting, they seem, with their clownish, slightly shabby wardrobe, like members of a strolling mummers’ band that have been abandoned by their fellows for some unforgivable transgression. In a number of these paintings these men are accompanied by small white-skinned girls, who might be their lovers, or their protectors, or both. At any rate, there’s a Beauty and the Beast relationship at play here, a connection forged from curiosity and counter-intuitive attraction to otherness. While the girls’ faces are all owl-like wisdom and cat-like knowingness, the men wear an expression that’s somewhere between bovine fatalism and bottomless melancholy. Looking at, say, Entertainers (2004) or Coulrophobia (2004–5), it’s tempting to imagine that the girl isn’t a ceramic figurine at all, but a child who has happened upon a weird monument to the exotic while wandering in the countryside and has persuaded her portraitist father to paint her perched on its knee in the manner of a big game hunter standing over a dead tiger. We might also imagine (and Weir’s slippery way with the real encourages this) that the reverse is true, and that the man in this painting is a representation of a flesh-and-blood sitter who chose, out of some unforgivable perversity, to pose cuddling up to a porcelain effigy of a little girl. Only by reminding oneself that the pair are made from the same material (or, importantly, the painterly pretence of that material) is it possible to circumvent Coulrophobia’s more politically and sexually unsavoury aspects and attempt to see it as a piece of we’re-all-the-same-under-the-skin piety. Even then, though, the painting still feels haunted by the phantom of some future tragedy in which the figures’ relationship is misunderstood and vituperatively punished.
A different (although perhaps related) type of fetishism is displayed in Weir’s painting Lovecharm (2003). Here a Venus of Willendorf (c.23,000 BC) style sculpture of a female figure is pierced with matchsticks in what looks like an exercise in sympathetic magic. Lumpy and seemingly made from Blu-tac, she’s the kind of object a desperate and slightly tipsy single person might fashion after reading one too many New Age-tinged self-help books. While she appears ill equipped to speed a perfect lover to her creator’s side, each of the matches in her body is surrounded by a penumbra of heavenly light, evidence that somebody, at least, is feeling their voodoo effects in very physical terms. In a sense this low-grade goddess is a sister of the ceramic figures from Coulrophobia, an object that is out of step with they way we like to perceive ourselves, but one from which we may nevertheless recover unpalatable truths about what we fear or have feared (loneliness, the Other) and one that, via Weir’s painterly witchcraft, provides us with the consolation of a peculiar beauty.
If paint aspires to flatness, Weir seems, politically at least, to aspire to something similar. Even when, in Shithouse (2004–5), he depicts a 19th-century ceramic model of a black boy holding open a privy door and taking one last proud peek at a job well done before he departs, the painter resists an explicit critique of its obvious and horrible racism. This is probably all to the good. To hector the art of the past does not serve the present, or the future. By instead subjecting the objects he paints to aesthetic rehabilitation (with perhaps the hope, in the end, of entry into an imageless Nirvana of pure paint), Weir plays a dangerous game, but one in which what emerges, in the end, is the weakness of the ideas they once embodied.