Matt Kleberg’s Drawings
Matt makes intensely engaging paintings that grapple with the relationship between architectural spatiality and painterly flatness. Their color, gradations, and undulating, isometric patterns reveal shallow spaces that appear to both open and close simultaneously. Subtle shifts in the color and direction of his oil stick stripes and marks can make a wall seem to be protruding or receding in comically strange ways. His paintings bright colors and the subtle humor of their ornamentation belies a deep exploration of the niche as a sacred space within the quotidian.
Matt’s paintings, while derived from physical architecture and layered with tactile paint, appear almost otherworldly. They are fractal in the ways in which doors and building facades are fractal – the outer proportions of a structure are reflected within their interiors. Yet his colors and subsequent patterns suggest more of a psychological architecture. This physical / mental dynamic is what pulls us, as viewers, into his spaces, compelling us to look more closely and to enter into the paintings. Once inside, the painting’s architecture pushes us back out, turning us around in order to allow us to see the world outside of the picture. The portal, becomes the façade, becomes a wall.
Matt’s work is in a very intentional conversation with diverse art historical precedents. One thinks both of Frank Stella’s early and recent work. Matt’s color palette, which he applies with oil stick in order to ‘fill in’ his striped patterns, bridges the vibrancy of Stella’s recent work with his early minimal paintings. In addition, Matt’s subtle illusions recall those of the Byzantine mosaic “Emperor Justinian and Members of his Court”, in which the positioning of the figures within the work’s shallow space have been subtly adjusted to suggest the complex power dynamic between church and state. Matt’s work also seems to have absorbed elements of Chinese landscape painting. For example, the space in the painting, “Travelers among Mountains and Streams”, by Fan Kuan, unfolds vertically and continually undulates, reinforcing the illusion of depth while its forms push outward into the space around it.
Drawing is a crucial element in Matt’s art making practice and it’s exciting to see his studio full of drawn permutations of his painted works. I’ve visited his studio many times and have always been impressed by the way his drawing practice informs his paintings. He draws every day, continually testing patterns, spaces, and compositions. These drawings are small and extremely varied, and their scale allows Matt to draw wherever he is, and to make them rapidly. They are experimental in the truest sense – while Matt’s paintings are intentionally finished and fixed, his drawings reveal the sheer amount of change, testing, and revision inherent in his thinking.
Often devoid of color and drawn with common black pens, Matt’s drawings delve deeply into the structure of his spaces. He’s interested in architecture that blurs high / low distinctions and he looks acutely at the spaces around him for inspiration. Drawing allows Matt to record these spaces and helps him to synthesize the architecture of his everyday life with the significant places that he’s inhabited and has known while growing up.
In Matt’s drawings, spaces must function via light and dark primarily, which forces him to resolve a work’s architectural and structural / compositional issues before applying color. Matt’s paintings have observably been worked and reworked, and he revises them continually, as one can see in the many crusted layers of oil paint. But the primary structures have been worked out in his drawings. If a drawing doesn’t work, he makes more drawings. Until he feels like he’s gotten it right.
For Matt, generative structural thinking happens within the many small-scale drawings that he makes daily, while his human scaled paintings engage the body viscerally. As an entire body of work, Matt’s process asks us to question how we see our spaces – the significant and the everyday – as places to think, feel, and, if we’re lucky, to have an epiphany.