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Seen x Interview: Cutting The Abstract

Matthew “Woody” Wood is an artist with whom I shared a loft in Los Angeles a few years ago, and was happy to learn that he was also very gifted. Although he started as a painter, his focus for the last decade has been making what he calls  “Biomorphagrams” out of very rare Chromarama paper. To my eye, Woody’s work looks like slices of the human anatomy entwined in a beautiful dance. Let’s see what he says about it.

You went to the Kansas City Art Institute, the same school that Robert Rauschenberg and Walt Disney studied at. Were you aware of the of history when you attended, and what was the feeling that you sensed when you attended, in that regard?

Firstly, I’d like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time at KCAI and in Kansas City. It’s a great school with a rich history of artistic excellence, and Kansas City has a robust arts community. In regard to your question, as a young artist and student, it was awesome and inspiring to know that one of America’s most celebrated painters and a pop culture legend walked the same halls and spilled paint on the same floors. Rauschenberg was brought up the most, probably because so many students made work similar to his. As for Walt, it’s “said” that he was expelled for the use of psychedelics…shocker! In retrospect, I’m honored to have had the opportunity to study with and in the footsteps of greatness.

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Your work has often been compared to some of Henri Matisse’s work, especially his figure studies in the 1950s, like Nu Bleu. Does it bother you to be compared to another artist, is it flattering, or both? Do you hate flattery?

I think it’s natural for most “viewers” to identify with a known artist’s work when seeing the work of a virtually unknown artist, especially if the work is abstract. Plus, Matisse is one of my favorites. I’ve always admired the complex simplicity of his work, specifically his line quality and paper cut-outs. Ultimately, it’s flattering when someone recognizes my work, even when compared to another artist. It reaffirms my decision making and artistic pursuit. I only dislike flattery when it’s forced, or insincere.

The Chromarama paper that you use is extremely rare and was produced in the 60s and 70s. Why create with such a rare medium? Aren’t you afraid that you might run out? Or is that what makes it so special?

Ah, Chromarama…what an amazing material! It was 1999 when I discovered it. At the time, I was searching/seeking alternative ways of making a painting without physically doing so, and Chromarama was now the answer. I’ll elaborate a bit: Chromarama was produced for layout and graphic design use long before computers had the capabilities they do today, i.e. Photoshop. It’s thin, durable, cuts effortlessly, doesn’t bleed, wrinkle, or fade easily. The pigment quality is rich and bold. This is due to the fact that at the time of manufacturing, wet pigment/paint was silk-screened onto the base paper. So now, conceptually, I had the answer to my plight: how to make a painting without physically painting? Chromarama!

Unfortunately, there will be a time when my supply ends; particular colors have already expired. However, I’ve saved literally every scrap and can say that I’m not worried about running out, but it’ll be a bummer when I do. And yes, I believe that to some extent, using an exotic/non-renewable material adds something sexy to the work. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that simply using rare/exotic materials makes strong work. One’s materials shouldn’t be a crutch.

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Can you explain your term Biomorphagram? And what’s a lyrical construction?

While attending NYU, for graduate school, I began photographing pedestrians’ shadows around the city. I’ve always been intrigued by shadows, their form, their simplicity, their abstract nature. After developing the photos I began manipulating them, cutting out the amoeba-like shadows. I continued using the cutouts as templates, making Pollock-like drawings of overlapping shadow forms. After several days of further manipulation, I found myself with a dozen cut out biomorphic forms. Because I wasn’t necessarily making “paintings” and didn’t want to pigeon-hole my work, I came up with the term Biomorphagram, which signifies the work and the forms themselves. There are currently 23 forms in my Biomorphagram library. A lyrical construction is a finished Biomophagram, lyrical referring to the movement/flow of the forms within the composition.

You spent a lot of time in Los Angeles and had an important solo show at Union Gallery DTLA. You’re now in Dallas. How do the art scenes in these two cities differ? Do you have a preference?

I’d say Los Angeles definitely has a more progressive and cultured art scene than Dallas. There’s also a higher concentration of artists/creatives in SoCal, which helps the cause. However, the Dallas arts community is growing at a rapid rate. It’s less saturated, a bit more welcoming and there’s a sense of real excitement and enthusiasm that LA and New York once had. Artists and viewers should feel welcomed when entering a museum or gallery.

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The Dallas Museum of Art has a great collection of contemporary art including works by Jackson Pollack, Jack Youngerman, Edward Ruscha, and many others. Do you spend time there? Where do you like to go for inspiration?

Indeed, the DMA has a great collection of contemporary art. It’s actually been a while, I’m probably overdue for a visit. There are a number of galleries in the design district that I enjoy popping into on occasion, and I have several venues in Fort Worth on my radar. I also have a large library of vintage art books that I peruse regularly: Matisse, Picasso, Dali, Calder, Bacon, and others. Lastly, Instagram is ultimately inspiring. So much talent out there! Keep it up, everyone!

Why does abstract work appeal to you so much?

I began making art at a young age, drawing pictures of toy cars, action figures, and epic fort schematics. When I wasn’t drawing, I was out and about in the woods of Southern Minnesota collecting agates, butterflies and anything that looked “cool” or had abstract features, i.e. colorful patterns. When I began to study art I was focused on honing my skills as a “realist,” but as time went on, I became bored with the notion of “copying” or “capturing” an image. Why not just take a picture?

Aside from the idea of having an amazing “skill set,” I yearned for a greater challenge. This epiphany led me down many paths of abstract and conceptual thinking for several years leading to my discovery/creation of my Biomophagram language. Ultimately, I consider abstract art as a choose-your-own-adventure for the viewer and an artistic challenge for myself. It’s fun for everyone! These days I’m still liking my favorites: Matisse, Picasso, Dali, Calder, De Kooning, Gorky. A few Instagram favorites: Eric Sall, Eddie Martinez, and #futureretrieval.

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What is next for you? Any shows? Collaboration? Other hi-jinx?

I’ve been pretty hunkered in the studio, stockpiling if you will. I hope to have a show this spring and have been a visiting artist at Galleri Urbane, in Dallas. I’m also planning a trip to SoCal this summer to talk to a few galleries and to spread the cheer, as well as a trip to Puerto Vallarta to deliver some work to a new client. A photographer buddy of mine in New York and I are in talks about doing a collaboration in the upcoming months. No details yet, just throwing some ideas around. Other than that, you can rest assured that I’ll be doing my best to create some fresh work!

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