By Shannon Gallagher
Matthew Schofield’s work has been in a constant state of evolution throughout his career. The small-scale oil paintings he creates now are quite different from the large scale, psychological, figurative paintings he created in college. “When I was in school, I always wanted to paint from life,” he said. “It was generally taught that painting from photos was taboo, and I agreed with that concept.” However, he later stumbled across some photo albums that belonged to his grandmother, and found himself enamored by the grouping and point of view of these images.
“I found the placement of the photos in the book interesting. It told a larger story, even though it wasn’t meant to. You viewed them together, and it gave you a richer tapestry of the narrative, where the photographer’s interests lie,” Schofield said. When he found the book, he began to paint in a more abstract way, focusing on the spaces between the people in the images, the space between the photos, and the human touch. “It was an area of interest to me, because it mean someone held it and placed it there. Is it haphazard, crooked, or placed with reverence? How does it frame the whole painting?”
Schofield found himself intrigued by the idea of gesture, the physical act of someone scrapbooking family photos. It was then that he began to paint small, because he started to work wet into wet, and had only a short time frame to complete each work. In 2006, he completed a series about the evolution of our time being managed, called (almost) everything, in which the artist focused on the things we think about or see when we’re distracted, or waiting in line, or what we see when we acquire our first smart phone- the constant bombardment of information and images that occurs in our daily lives. “I did a strip of small paintings that wrapped completely around the gallery. The images didn’t really relate, so I was essentially scrapbooking, doing the thing that I found interesting before. I really liked working small, and I liked the idea of the scrapbook, and so I started to look at who was holding the camera and used that as a portrait,” he explained.
Schofield then started to look at photographs taken by his grandmother and his father and began to examine what their interests were when taking the photo. “It showed their idiosyncrasies, what was important to them. I learned what they found worthy of a snapshot. It was naive and refreshing, because it wasn’t a contrived composition.” He also noted that the one to one scale is not meant to fool the viewer, but simply to reference the original object.
Although his grandmother is no longer living, Schofield’s parents have come to his exhibitions and given him further insight into what was going on in the photographer’s mind when various photos were taken. “I like that I get to talk to them about the imagery. I could see my dad starting to think about how he composed a shot. My mom told him that she didn’t like the way he took photos because he’d step back and take the full frame; she wanted to see the personality of the people in the images,” he recalled. “This meant that I was on the right track, as far as exposing the idiosyncrasies, the portraiture of the person taking the photo. They are the masters of the world you’re being exposed to.”
Schofield loves the curatorial aspect of his work. “The painting is enjoyable, but the installation is my favorite thing. I get great satisfaction from it, the challenge of concept to completion. Maturing as an artist, knowing why you’re doing what you are, and thinking of the next step, and what you want to accomplish with this. What’s my end game? How can I expand on this? These are thoughts that run through my head. Some artists can focus on something forever, but it doesn’t seem like much change, they’re very gradual. Sometimes, it’s a matter of a reaction to looking at older work, and in those moments, you can discover something that interests you, and chase after it. Now I’m at the refining stage, I want to go bigger now (in terms of installation), but it can’t be forced, because then it becomes contrived,” he revealed.
In regard to his series Supernumeraries: repurposed, a collection of small (1” x 1.5”) oil paintings on glass, he, in a way, pays homage to visual effects matte painters at the end of the 19th century. Schofield also, is doing post-production in film, for which he has been nominated for both a Primetime Emmy award and an Oscar. However, what he does for that line of work is largely done on computers. Before the digital age, matte painters painted giant (as large as 4’ x 8’) works with oil on glass to create backdrops for movie scenes when building an actual set would take up too much time, money, and materials. Many films, including Star Wars, were filmed this way. “It was crazy,” he said. “It’s more amazing what these artists did as individuals back then than what an entire studio can do today.” Schofield found himself thinking about what it would be like to paint on glass, and decided to give it a shot. “I was happy to try it, and I needed a reason to do it. I thought I was getting too tight as a painter, so I tried a different medium and scale.
Glass is slippery and slick; it was difficult at first. It was also a challenge to paint that small. I decided that I was going to work at that size because I was taking found photographs and finding the characters in the backgrounds of paintings and making them the primary characters- it’s a matter of importance, not scale. I focus on them instead of the person smiling. The series is called Sumpernumeraries, because that’s what background characters on set are called. This series loosened me up, and I might continue doing it on a larger scale,” he said.
In the series, many of the images feature dark color palettes, which have nothing to do with the idea of looking at a slide without a projector. “It’s just that the photos I’m using are dark because they weren’t metered to the background. I try to paint verbatim, one to one. I like a technical challenge, like, ‘Can I paint this in the exact same color space?’ Sometimes it’s too dark, overexposed. That’s where I’m clearly referencing the original object,” he explained.
Schofield spent the bulk of last year working on 80 pieces for a major show at an art gallery in Ontario, so he’s happy to have a bit of a break right now. “After some time off, I’m going to try to conceive something for next year, to fill a bigger space,” he said. “It’s a tall order, and I’m happy to have the freedom and luxury of not having to think about it for a little while. After a major series, I need time for introspection, to let things percolate. I don’t want to water [the work] down.”
As far as the direction in which his work may be headed, Schofield said that he is thinking of working on a larger scale, in terms of installation. “When you have 80 small works, it becomes its own composition,” he said. “Each viewer picks different pieces to zoom in on; you can’t focus on a single image. It’s overwhelming, and it’s hard to choose something to look at. I’m building on the same theme of distraction.”
Matthew Schofield’s work is on display at ZIA Gallery from March 7th through April 18th, 2015.