Andy Mattern, Driven Snow

JTF (just the facts): Self published in 2013, in a signed edition of 100. Paperback, 50 pages, with 19 color photographs. The thin volume includes an introductory text by the artist and relevant statistical information on each piece (dimensions, temperature, and snow depth).

Comments/Context: Having spent a number of years in Minnesota when I was growing up, Andy Mattern’s book of ice block investigations immediately struck my fancy. When the winter reaches that point when it’s continuously below freezing and the roads are covered in dirt, sand, rock salt, and slush, the wet road spray that comes up from the back of your car tires freezes in place instead of melting away. The result is a bulbous array of stalactite-like encrustations that build up in wheel wells, lumpy blobs of astonishingly hard, dirty ice that can only be dislodged with a swift kick of your boot. Even with a good running start, they often stubbornly resist being removed from their homes.

Andy Mattern has documented these ugly bergs with an almost geological fascination. Photographed against bright white backgrounds (like Irving Penn’s skulls), each one shows off its pits and crystals, its layers of sediment and gunk, with crisp, typological detail. His approach has turned these objects into unlikely sculptures, echoing otherworldly moon rocks or weird natural formations, edging into abstraction as their elemental forms take over in the floating whiteness. A closer look finds dark shiny areas competing with decorations of dusty snow, and honed blocks and slabs forged with gritty dirt. Each has its own personality, in a spectrum of light to dark.

While countless photographers have used the isolation technique to get us to pay attention to the beauty of unexpected objects, Mattern’s ice blocks are unusual enough to be fresh. Like an ink blot test or a “what does that cloud look like” game, I kept seeing boots, spearheads, or bikini bottoms in these ice clusters, and I’m certain one of them hides a frozen T-bone steak. The curves and bumps kept me thinking, looking for some answer amid the indifferent frozen residue.

Collector’s POV: Andy Mattern is represented by Stephen Clark Gallery in Austin, TX (here). Mattern’s work has no secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the only option for those collectors interested in following up.

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