Sag HarborTo Be an Artist Is to Embrace the World in One Kiss
A curation of works by Mercedes and Herbert Matter
Drawing to me, is the expression of that high attribute of the mind which perceives structure, which penetrates beyond the perception of the senses to the nature and cohesion of things. It attempts to define, to measure, and to fix, not only in space but in duration, and to create scale. Never “realistic” nor in a position of descriptive dependency, it knows a language as economical and as abstract as mathematics. Drawing is the abstract in painting. – Mercedes Matter
Mark Borghi Fine Art is pleased to present its new revelatory exhibition, To Be an Artist Is to Embrace the World in One Kiss.
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Although many curatorial efforts have emphasized the influence of both Herbert Matter and Mercedes Matter on other artists, the influence of Herbert’s photography on Mercedes’ drawings and paintings has not been thoroughly examined because of how seemingly independent the visions of both artists were. However, by showing Mercedes Matter’s drawings and paintings alongside Herbert Matter’s photography for the very first time, this exhibition emphasizes a clear relationship between Herbert’s abstract and surrealist approach to photography with Mercedes’ own abstractions of source imagery.
Before moving to the United States, Herbert Matter had already established himself as a successful European graphic designer, most notability working for the Swiss national Tourist Bureau. When he was chosen to work on the World’s Fair Swiss Pavilion, Mercedes was hired as his assistant and the two almost instantly became a couple. They married in April of 1941.
Herbert stated how the medium of photography needed to go through a process of mystification, which was aligned with the artistic goals of the Surrealist movement. Herbert’s experimentations with the concept of action / motion within the medium of photography most certainly influenced the work of Jackson Pollock, as examined by Ellen G. Landau in Action/ Re-Action: The Artistic Friendship of Herbert Matter and Jackson Pollock. The work of Mercedes Matter embodied a similar mystification to that of her husband’s work. In her article, Mercedes Matter’s Awful, Wonderful Itch, Jennifer Samet states that Mercedes’ work was about “capturing the electric energy between objects. Source imagery was rendered nearly unrecognizable.” Mercedes’ artistic process of stripping down recognizable forms into only the most basic and crucial components and energizing them was aligned with Herbert’s belief that photography should be creatively manipulated to achieve its full artistic potential. This type of abstraction through deconstruction and reanimation is evident in both Herbert’s Driftwood (solarized), 1940 and Mercedes’ Figure Study #1, ca. 1966-68. The lasting impressions of Herbert’s artistic aims remain evident in Mercedes’ drawings, which became her preferred medium in her later years. In her essay on Mercedes Matter’s later work, Creativity in the Later Years, Phyllis Braff states: “In later years, she increased the amount of time she directed toward drawing as part of her own studio practice. She liked not only the faster completion of a work, but also found that the rhythms related to daily activities were becoming part of the art.” The personalized, rhythmic movements within her figure studies, thoroughly examined in this exhibition, seem to evoke the same rhythmic motions that were being explored in her husband’s photography.
The Matters had many close connections in the art world and this exhibition also emphasizes the photo portraits Herbert did of their inner social circle including Willem de Kooning, Alexander Calder and Fernand Leger. These portraits attest to the collective influence the Matters had over the New York Avant-garde.
Mercedes Matter (1913-2001): Her father, Arthur B. Carles, a pioneering American modernist painter, taught her to paint landscapes in the French countryside when she was 6. As a teenager living in New York, she studied with the influential German expatriate artist Hans Hofmann at the Art Students League. She studied with Hofmann until 1935, before signing on with the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. Matter spent the mid-1930’s working for the W.P.A., where she met Lee Krasner (they were arrested for protesting W.P.A. layoffs, and spent a night together in jail) along with the French artist Fernand Léger, with whom Mrs. Matter collaborated on W.P.A. murals. Léger also introduced her to Herbert Matter. They married in 1941 and shared a house and studio with Léger. Later in the 1950’s the Matters’ moved to Newtown Lane in East Hampton where they spent time with close friends like Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Alexander Calder and Willem de Kooning. In the second half of her career, Matter also emerged as an outspoken critic of dogmatic arts education and became a national torchbearer for studio-led learning as founder of the influential New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture.
Herbert Matter (1907-1984) was a Swiss-born American photographer and graphic designer known for his pioneering use of photomontage in commercial art. The designer’s innovative and experimental work helped shape the vocabulary of 20th-century graphic design. As a photographer, Matter won acclaim for his purely visual approach. A master technician, he used every method available to achieve his vision of light, form and texture. He went to the United States in 1936 and was hired by legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch. Work for Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and other magazines followed. From 1946 to 1966 Matter was design consultant with Knoll Associates working closely with Charles and Ray Eames.
Courtesy of Mark Borghi