The Artist's Gaze: Matthew Ivan Cherry
What compels you to the specific women you choose to paint?
I am usually compelled to paint people I know and have some form of intimacy with. If I engage and decide to paint someone random, as in my current body of work "someBODIES" (details below) I hope to engage with these people more than once, so that I can portray how time reveals identity and is reflected in that person through likeness, behaviors, or conditions and through the aging process in general.
One of my greatest secret passions is "people watching" ... random people along the streets, watching and studying their form, their faces, their bodies, and their behaviors and trying to see through their public artifice and arrive to some sense of identity through the clues I observe.
When do you know you have made a significant connection to your subject and what does that feel or look like from your perspective?
It looks like your field of vision just obtained clarity. Like the focus just registered. For me ... I mark my way through a painting like cutting paths through a forest. It isn't for some time before I begin to make sense of my voyage/painting ... when the marks and paint tend to bear fruit and reveal purpose, when the pathway clears ... and something cohesive emerges. It is also about this time when I begin to really understand the person in front of me. To really see them ... a new them ... one that is not prejudiced or tainted by my first assessment or interpretation of who they are ... but rather something that is unveiled over time, through dialogue, and by really looking to "see" truth and understand.
Tell us about a strong reaction you have received to your work and the impact you sense it has made on the subject, viewer or the greater cultural landscape.
Many people have said that they are not brave enough to sit for me. They feel that I reveal too much and expose layers that they are not comfortable revealing. Others have stated that I should paint "prettier" or lighter, more beautiful.
For me, there is nothing more beautiful than truth. Truth exposes our many vulnerabilities. I am okay working in this territory ... with pain and sadness and uncertainty. I think this is where great beauty resides; if not beauty, at least authenticity ... which brings me back to beauty! Because it is there where I have experienced true identity and shed the artifice donned for the public eye.
What is it about your personal journey that has brought your gaze to focus so deeply on women.
Honestly, it is not just women ... it is the humanity in both genders that I am looking to reveal. What is so common and universally experienced while still seeking to find what is extraordinary and unique in every individual.
I don't buy in to prescribed emotions or assigned qualities as being gender specific ... I don't believe in such things. I believe that women are as strong or stronger than men. That characteristics generally applied as being masculine are often found in women ... and traits such as meekness and the ability to empathize or nurture others can be found in men as well. I believe culture teaches such traits out of both genders. Such a shame.
Being a gay man, who was raised in a very patriarchal culture of mormonism, and having been married to a woman who also recently came out after both of us having raised a family with five children, the subject of identity, sexuality, gender roles and just what it means to be a man or woman will most likely intrigue me for a lifetime. I have not dealt with these themes directly at this point. To date, I have been more interested in the revelation of a person's identity and soul through the painting process.
Why this visual dialogue? What do you hope to accomplish through your work?
To engage with people ... when they look back. Maybe its out of the intrinsic need I have to connect. To have someone looking back at me ... sustained looking, watching, seeing.
This is not like looking at people on the streets or in the subway ... those people avoid your gaze and the connection. But in a studio, when people are sitting for me no matter the purpose or duration ... they are looking for me to do something with them, make use of them, reveal some truth in them, to portray what they look like or how they feel. But it often seems to me that they have this need to see themselves revealed through art, and by process that they are looking at me almost as if they are looking for their own internal answers ... like I am a great diviners magic ball and can see the future or the past if I wave my brushes just right.
On the surface that might seem like a trite response, but I paint people because they look back at me. There is an exchange, even with the briefest of moments, an opportunity to experience intimacy, dialogue, shared experiences, wisdoms or light.
They are engaged with me while I am entranced with them, whether through live observation or through a photographic process, at some point I have engaged with them in life and have looked them in the eye and they have looked back. They haven’t dodged my gaze like so many do on the streets these days, absorbed in their assorted digital technologies. I have sat with them. I have breathed the same air. I have shared intimate moments with them. I have looked into their eyes and gazed into a life a soul. They respond. I respond back. They smile in their eyes, their muscles change, sadness flickers across their face, they flush with embarrassment or excitement. They become vulnerable.
Yes, this is something important to me. Vulnerability. I can’t get enough of it. When someone sits for me, whether drawing or painting from life or sitting in front of a camera I am manning, their façade begins to slip away. They are reduced to their underlying selves, their underpinnings of their personalities are exposed. It’s a beautiful moment when I experience this happening.
How does your subject make a change in your artist's gaze?
About the same time that I reach some clarity in the painting moving it towards a potentially successful conclusion is usually also about the time when I begin to really understand the person in front of me. To really see them ... a new them ... one that is not prejudiced or tainted by my first summation or interpretation of who they are ... but rather something that is unveiled to me over time, through dialogue, and really looking to "see" them as a wholly unique creature worthy not just of painting, but worthy of everyone taking a moment to reflect on what is so supreme in each of us individually.
Tell us about your current series or work and how it may be different from the work submitted for the show.
The work submitted to this exhibition is of my three daughters. They are part of a newly emerging body of work called Project 23, where I am moving forward in time documenting their faces from the past; the early days of their childhood years as we progressed to the moment in all of our lives when we had this cataclysmic change and transition in our family dynamic. After 23 years of marriage and a relationship of 30 years, both me and my wife decided to come out and embrace our truths as individuals who, although coming together in our youth, and raising a beautiful family together, found a way to transition through devastating circumstances and support one another despite coming from a culture that could never accept us. This work is about identities that transition and morph through time and experience as documented through portraits of my children over 23 years. These are just the beginning ... so stay tuned.