Matt and I recently talked about some of his working methods and inspiration. I was familiar with some of his older work and have been delighted with the direction of his newer paintings.
KM: Your work that I am most familiar with is from 2001 to 2009. It seems that the paintings are getting looser and the tone is warmer.
MG: There are definitely tendencies toward looser handling in my work. I hope as I mature as a painter, my handling will be less constrained, like many painters I admire. Right now, the larger pieces are more controlled, finished pieces. I tend to be looser in my smaller works and especially my gouaches. I gravitate to smaller work, some my most favorite paintings are small.
KM: How have your paintings changed over the years and is it a conscious effort to change or is it evolving on its own?
MG: My evolution as a painter has been influenced by who I happen to be looking at any given point and I paint in a style reminiscent of painters I like. Some recent autumn paintings were inspired by the work of Daniel Garber . I saw quite a few inspiring pieces at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art’s Museum of American Art a few years ago. I’m still processing that show. The Gathering was an attempt to paint a tapestry-like piece in Garber–like fashion.
KM: Has your painting process changed over the years and has that influenced your style?
MG: The gouache paintings have informed my oils. They help me understand the importance of freshness in a painting because you cannot fuss with a gouache or it quickly becomes stale. I think this is true of oil painting as well.
KM: Switching gears a bit. What makes you paint?
MG: Painting is one way I deal with my mortality – or at least avoid the thought of the end. My demise seems most distant when I have a paintbrush in my hand. I am comforted by the silly notion that a few of these works will probably survive me. Painting has a lot of things going for it despite it being an antiquated medium. It affords me a number of things; it is an effort to make meaning of what I see, it is a dialogue with paintings of the past; it gives me a sense of purpose or worth.
KM: What about the landscape or cityscape attracts you?
MG: There is a rich tradition that I am looking to when I commence painting a landscape. There are nearly always a dozen great artists who have painted what I have painted or something like what I have painted [before]. What I find exciting is how I will depict the scene and what this says about my work and who I am. In this sense, I find painting a process of self-discovery as well as mediation on the world and the tradition of painting.
I’m also inspired by what I think would make an interesting painting. This usually involves what I see during everyday life, as well how this intersects with photography and art history. I cannot paint a pear without thinking about how a dozen other painters might go about this. And in the process of painting that pear I find, through what I choose to include and what I choose to leave out, what kind of painter I am.
KM: Can you tell me about your process?
MG: With the exception of still-life, I usually paint an underpainting. In gouache, I paint it in yellows and reds and finish with a cool, then a full color final layer. In oil, I begin with variations of dark reds and whites – what is a Venetian method, I think. I try to keep the darks lean and build up the whites. Then I paint a whole other layer on top of this. This way, I find by essentially painting the image twice you learn how the painting works the second time around. Using such a method, Sickert said you may, “learn the song so you can play it by heart”.
KM: How do your paintings come together: plein air, in the studio, or a mix?
MG: The gouaches or opaque watercolor are often done on site. Still-lifes are done from life in the studio. Otherwise, I paint landscape in the studio from digital or scanned photographs. I sometimes manipulate images on the computer to better understand tonal relationships. Sometimes, I will work from three totally different images of the same picture and take what I need to create the painting. One needs a fresh eye. And when you work indirectly, depending on one image is frequently not enough.
KM: Do you mean three pictures of the same subject from different points of view or three differentially colored or valued versions of the same photo, i.e. a black and white version, a red version or blue version? By “fresh eye” you mean the different images give you a fresh perceptive on the subject?
MG: Frequently, it’s the same image. I usually desaturate it, and simplify or amplify the tonal values of the image. It’s also important to know the right time to put the source material away and work on the painting on its own terms so that it can stand alone. After all, I’m interested in making a painting – not a painted photo, not photo-realism.
KM: What type of size and surface do you like to work on?
MG: In oil, I work on canvas, muslin, or panel. Someone recently remarked that you can recognize a former Lennart student by whether he paints on muslin or not. In gouache, I prefer hot press [paper], the heavier the better.
KM: Do you do drawings to get started?
MG: On site I’ll do a bare-bones sketch but usually dive in [with paint]. With small oils, I usually work on the underpainting without a drawing and just arrange simple masses. With large works, I generally square them up initially, find a few key points and lay in the masses.
KM: Matt, I know it can be hectic right before the exhibition opening, thanks for taking the time to talk with me about your work and process. The new paintings are beautiful and it was great to get some insight as to how you work.
Please come to F.A.N. Gallery to see Matt Greenway: Recent Paintings, July 1st — 31st, 201, Opening Reception First Friday: July 1st, 5 — 9 p.m.