I am a friend of Mattison's. My name is James Rowell and I've been very interested in Mattison's work since I first met her. I am also a painter and art lover. From this fairly informal perspective I've written down a few of my thoughts about her work.
Over the course of the past year I have been fortunate to have attended all of her shows. In two cases, since they were local, Mattison went with me and we talked about the work. I recorded both conversations which took place on December 8, 1994 at Gor don Biersch in San Jose CA, and on September 12, 1995 at the Q- Cafe Billiards in Palo Alto.
One thing I've discovered is that there are consistent themes running through all of her work. Let me give you an example, we're talking about "The Hug" at Gordon Biersch in 1994. She says:
"The Hug, it's about Robert. It's about a time when I was pushing myself creatively to see where the end of the line was. Whether I'd could go over the edge, or what it would be like. I was working and working and painting non-stop and I was close. I didn't know what was wrong, I couldn't sit down, I couldn't work I couldn't think, so one of my dear friends Robert came over, and I said 'Robert' I need a hug really badly, and he gave me this huge one, and then, actually, I said `I need another one' so he gave me another, (giggle) I think I ended up getting three, but what happened was that my energy was all going to the, ... to the right, and the hug switched it around, the hug switched it back. Like a rock when its magnetization changes. Bodies get it too. So that's what it is, it's all about energy."
Now something she said at the Q-Cafe in 1995:
"[My paintings] have three levels, they have a personal level, societal level, and an art level. With respect to the personal level, they all relate to certain things that are happening in my life, with certain people at the time, or certain travels, which can only come out in color and motion. I can't really write a story about them in words, because it's not what the vision is."
Her lucid account of her mode of working is borne out by examin- ing her paintings and relating them to events in her life at the time. Just for fun, I'll list some titles and mention some high- ly simplified details about what was happening to her at the time:
- "Start Giving": Mattison paints about a relationship with a "selfish man". Observe the black, fractured, bullet-hole-like shapes (him) overlaying the soft pink background (her).
- "Fear": Mattison is struggling with some fear she has "locked up in her body". Mattison preferred warm tones in most of her work to this point, but this one is predominantly green and cold. The electrified zig- zagged yellow was her "way out".
- "Price of Universal Healing": The is about her "Rolfer" (a form of deep massage) and "when he works on you, you don't know where your body starts or ends". Note the impressions of underwater vegetation suspended in space.
- "Astral Projection": Mattison just came back from New York for the first time, and she thought that she'd "broken her color" due to her exposure to the grey, dingy filth of the city.
Mattison's paintings are manifestations - in paint, color and motion - of specific energies in her body. Sometimes I imagine her work to be advanced "scientific visualizations" of her psyche.
Mattison stresses that her work is about personal experiences, emotions, drives, passions, loves, tensions, fears, etc. Simply put, the human condition. Expressing the human condition is the motivation behind all great art. However, motivation is not sufficient to produce great art. The work itself must effec- tively communicate the intentions or experiences of the artist. If you examine Mattison's work it is easy to see the common threads, her motivations, her hopes and the effects of her sur- roundings.
Take three of Mattison's latest pieces: "Eye of the Storm", "Delicate Balance - You and Me - Care Matters" and "Moonspell," which form a series. Each of them seems to be about the source of life with impressions of the sea, complex fields of interact- ing energy, tension between hot and cold, hard and soft, light and darkness and the wonderful form that springs up from these polarities and interactions.
Consider the influences that might have affected her production of these paintings. Perhaps living near the ocean and mountains her whole life, her desire to spread goodness and love around her, the past vocabulary of images she's built up in her work to date, her discussions and interactions with her friends and their artistic concerns. These are mere speculations on my part, but when I listen to her talk about her own work my musings are usually confirmed on some level (try it yourself). What this says to me is not that I'm particularly observant, but that Mattison is particularly expressive.
Art should be an integral part of our daily lives. The ideal setting for viewing a painting is one where a glass of wine or leisurely meal can be enjoyed. Being able to glance over to the wall to ponder a painting as you talk about an unrelated issue with your friend is one of the great pleasures of the art viewer. Mattison's shows have all been in restaurants or cafes, the perfect setting for an art show. I believe this to be the start of a very healthy trend in the art world.
Mattison is breaking new ground, in terms of her own unique im- ages and her independent approach to the art business. More im- portantly, she is touching on forces that have always been the source of great art.