Matthew Stone, Unconditional Love @The Hole

JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 works, intermittently framed/mounted on wooden support boxes, and hung against white walls in the interconnected rooms of the main gallery space. The majority of the works are photographic prints on beech veneered MDF with walnut frames, while a few are acrylic prints on clear glass or mirror. Physical sizes range from roughly 28×20 to 96×144 (or reverse, both rectangular and oval shaped), with some works consisting of multiple panels. All of the works were made in 2014. The show also includes a video piece, on display in a darkened side room. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: We typically describe a photograph as “painterly” when it has been executed with a particular attention to gesture and texture or when its colors have been allowed to run wild in a kind of blurred, often romantic lushness. But Matthew Stone’s new works take the idea of a painterly photograph more literally, pulling apart that simple definition and replacing it with something more rigorously conceptual, while simultaneously intermingling the two previously separate media with exuberance and vitality.

Stone’s previous projects are full of smart experiments with photographic substrates and materiality, printing sinuous nudes on three dimensional wood panels and laser-etching ghostly images onto painted wood. In these newest works, Stone actually does begin with paint, that is thick brush strokes of wet paint applied to glass. These smears, squeegees, and globs are then photographed, enlarged, enhanced, and relayered digitally, creating abstract compositions that exaggerate expressiveness. These are gestures writ large, gleeful in their pastel richness. But up close, the works resolve back into photographs, where paint isn’t undulating and gooey, but uniformly flat, with areas of the underlying wood grain showing through in the gaps. Images on glass and mirror substrates play with this figure/ground context further, a few using multiple physical layers to create overlapped depth and impossible wet on wet overpainting. Smaller compositions feature the power of dominant marks, while larger works and ceiling ovals allow complexity to build up further, each a swirl of vibrant, energetic movements. It’s as if he has broken down the elemental brush strokes of painting into individual gestures, which he has then digitally systematized into a new kind of interchangeable artistic vocabulary.

While Roy Lichtenstein’s late 1960s Brushstrokes series deconstructed the expansive, muscular gestures of the Abstract Expressionists with commercial efficiency, Stone’s photographs are much more celebratory; they revel in details of fluid wetness and seductive, multicolored mixing, with bright highlights flaring across the edges of paint channels. What’s exciting about these works is that they conflate the personal passions of painting with the machine vision of photography, tempting us with extravagant flourishes but building them out of optimized samples. Stone has found the limit point where the painterliness of a photograph is both revered and undermined, giving his eye candy a decidedly clever edge.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show range from $5000 to $18000 based on size, with many intermediate prices/sizes ($5500, $6500, $7000, $7500, $8000, $8500, $10000, and $12000). Stone’s work has little history in the secondary markets for photography, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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