An artist’s career can be compared to a journey; one in which they move forward while often gazing back to draw upon past experiences and inspirations.
Currently, Messiah College’s Aughinbaugh Art Gallery is playing host to “Textbook: Sculptures Based in Form,” a true glimpse upon a portion of the continuing journey of mixed media sculptor Sean Matthews.
Matthews, an associate professor of art at Messiah, is an accomplished sculptor of wood, stone and steel who incorporates other media such as ceramic, found object and paper into his works. His use of minimalism makes the negative space or what isn’t there, as important as the physical elements that are included. “The works I make investigate marriage of materials, activation of space and asymmetrical balance in geometric form,” Matthews said.
As one moves among the 10 sculptures included in the exhibition, Matthews’ use of natural materials, a painstaking attention to detail and his use of the space within and surrounding the works are common threads. Yet the intriguing aspects of the journey are the reoccurring shapes, the emphasis on form and the evolution of themes and ideas from piece to piece.
Matthews points out that “Potential of Collapse” is both the first as well as the last piece constructed in the group. The two wooden cubes were first shown several years ago, displayed a distance apart. The space between created a dialog or tension between the two. Today, the identical cubes are precariously stacked, propped up on one edge by a small piece of wood. This time the dialogue occurs in a more intimate proximity, with a tension created by the chance of the “collapse.”
The use of found objects within many of the sculptures pays tribute to Matthews’ art influences. He references prominent Dadaist, Marcel Duchamp, who regularly employed everyday items or “readymades.”
“From Chaos to Order” is constructed from a fallen tree limb, busted copper pipes, 100-year-old wood floor, wood plinth and electrical tape; all of which hold meaning and inspiration to the artist. The result is a towering structure of wood with pipe as support to tell a story to be interpreted by the viewer.
In describing his sculptures, Matthews’s states, “They are heavily influenced from art history and constructed through process-driven explorations of traditional and non-traditional materials.”
“Raw” also uses building items such as dowels, wood and concrete and a “found” tripod to create a figurative form with legs, trunk and tipped head. The anthropomorphic “Raw” once stood with head held straight, but through the creative process, the final pose emerged.
The use of materials that once served the artist other purposes gives pieces a sense of history. “Off the Canvas” sees two stained planks meeting at a point as they stand within a frame placed on the floor. The scars of past projects are visible in the wood, recalling a past life of the components of the sculpture.
Placed directly outside of the gallery space is the most elaborate of the pieces within “Textbook.” Standing alone is “Pushing Weight.” In it Matthews has fabricated and forged steel into a giant weight secured by a chain. It sits atop cement pavers and carved wood, separated only by a delicate piece of felt. The weight is balanced upon the column that is perch upon a wheeled pallet.
It appears to be filled with dichotomies; hard and soft as well as immobile and moveable. Again, it is Matthews’ own subtle narrative that allows for input and interpretation by the viewer.
The basis of the art in “Textbook” can be found in the elements of shape, texture, balance and economy. Matthews makes these the foundation of his art which makes it relevant to anyone who views it. As he describes, “I believe that art based in the foundations of design can be accessible to all audiences, and it is my intent for these textbook sculptures to empower the viewer with the ability to interpret my work through their own aesthetic background.”
The journey of sculptor Sean Matthews continues its forward momentum. The chance to see this snapshot of an artist gives the viewer a unique look at his past, his momentary present and with a hope of seeing a glimpse of where he will travel next.
Sean Matthews, “Textbook: Sculptures Based in Form” is on exhibition until Oct. 11 at Messiah College’s Aughinbaugh Art Gallery on the lower level of the Climenhaga Fine Arts Center on the College’s Grantham campus. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information visit www.messiah.edu.