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12 Questions: Kim Matthews


Kim Matthews makes nonobjective drawings and sculpture in various media. The frequent use of accretion to develop her works evolved from practical concerns—the need to be productive with little available studio time—and spiritual ones, as repetition is evocative of the mantra meditation that structures her daily life. The recipient of a 2010-2011 Jerome Fiber Artist Project Grant, Ms. Matthews exhibits in nonprofit and commercial venues throughout the U.S. In 2017, she participated in her first international exhibition in Ukraine. Her work is featured in Lark Books’ 500 Paper Objects and Artistry in Fiber, Volume II: Sculpture, published by Schiffer.

Artist’s Statement

I’m interested in the ineffable qualities of “objectness”—what is sometimes called aura—as well as materiality and process as vehicles for spiritual engagement. My work is rooted in a long-term meditation practice; making drawings and sculptures is a complementary discipline of devotion. I use tactility to draw the viewer into the work and toward introspection through the seduction of intense looking.

Although the 108 Series drawings are comparatively quiet—a kind of art medicine—they have a kinship with the exuberant sculpture in this exhibition despite their origins in very different experiences. In addition to the obvious shared formal qualities of geometry, tactility, and evidence of the hand, each series is the product of a healing process spurred by profound loss. The drawings are influenced by the Tantric drawings of Rajasthan in their format, simplicity, and potential use for prayer or contemplation. They tend to emerge in response to current world events or personal ones; I’ve made them throughout the Australian wildfires, COVID, and the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, for instance, although they began in response to a breakup of a long-term relationship. They are not topical, however.

The sculptures are increasingly revealing themselves as analog to a soul-retrieval process. They were prompted by a desire to reclaim my most comforting childhood memories and express affection for the illustrators and designers whose work informed my early visual lexicon—Peter Max, Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast—and the brightly colored design objects I yearned for: inflatable furniture, the Panasonic Toot a Loop radio, and Op-art prints. They are also influenced by the art of the 1960s and early 1970s; in particular, postminimalist artist Eva Hesse is a touchstone, as she is for so many women.

1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?

Tao te Ching. Science of Being and Art of Living by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Anne Truitt journals: Daybook, Turn, Promise, and Yield. I read tons of art history too—mostly 20thcentury, stuff about artists into metaphysics, Theosophy, like that. That’s a few more than three!

2. What are you currently working on? I’m working my way out of a pretty serious (for me) depression. I don’t have clinical issues per se; I just went through eight months with almost no paying work and went down a long, dark road of self-recrimination for poor choices I made when I was a teenager that informed everything that followed. I recently picked up a nine-month contract, so that gives me a little breathing room and I can get back to working on my latest series of Kites, which are fluorescent painted wall-hung mixed media sculptures. The thing is, my whole project is about making objects that carry and convey positive feelings, and I don’t want to infuse my work with feelings of anxiety or sadness, so I have to be really conscious of my state of mind when I set out to work in the studio.

3.How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

I don’t think failure has set me up for later success at all. I think all my failures have just made my life a lot harder than it had to be. I don’t believe that suffering is needed for one to be an artist. I think it’s just part of life and should be avoided at all cost when one has the option. I try to make the most life-affirming choices possible so I don’t have a bunch of messes to clean up and am not living from crisis to crisis. So I don’t have a favorite failure, unless you’d consider a stubborn resistance to being “normal” a failure. That would be my favorite.

If you’re talking about art, I definitely learn from my technical failures. Sometimes repeatedly.

4.What is your most unusual habit?

I don’t have any unusual habits that I can think of; I’m sure one of my friends or family would have a different answer for that question.

5. If you could have any painter, living or dead, paint your portrait, who would it be and why?

John Singer Sargent, because his work is just so incredibly beautiful and he’d make me look great.

6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? What is your studio like? Could you share an image?

Probably my smart speaker. I listen to music all day long when I’m alone. My studio is in my home; it’s not terribly exciting. Here’s one of my studio walls:

7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?

It depends. In commercial art school we were taught the “force ideas out by sketching endless thumbnails” method, and it was just a pointless, torturous exercise, so I’m firm believer that trying to force art out of yourself will not end well. If I’m feeling stuck in some way, I do something else. There are plenty of things to do to maintain a studio practice, whether it’s maintenance or research. If things get really bad, the question is, What is the point of all this?

8. Who/What influences your work?

What doesn’t, is more like it. Modernist art, design, architecture. Artists like Eva Hesse, Isamu Noguchi, Constantin Brancusi, Jackie Winsor, Wayne Thiebaud, Tony Smith, Agnes Martin…too many to name, but they’re mostly people with a strong sense of materiality and/or spirituality. And different things pique my interest at different times. I was all monochrome, all the time for years and have been making painted fluorescent sculptures for about three years now. I honestly don’t know how that happened.

9. Do you collect anything?

I do. I come from a collecting family and when I was small I lived in a huge house in midcoast Maine built in 1840. My parents worked for an auctioneer in the summers, and my mom had a thing for Victorian furniture—I always joke that I developed a love of Modernism in reaction to that godawful furniture we lived with. I started going to yard sales with my parents when I was about nine and began collecting old bottles (I also dug in bottle dumps in the woods), advertising stuff, 1933 and ‘39 World’s Fair memorabilia... Later on my brother, who as also an antique dealer, turned me on to Bakelite and lucite jewelry, vintage clothes, designers like Russel Wright. Then there’s Depression-era kitchen stuff, studio ceramics. I collect—and also sold—vintage Mexican silver jewelry and dec. arts. I’ve been buying furniture and objects from my childhood, which I suppose is a phase lots of people go through. These days I’m trying to offload more than I take on but now and then I buy or trade a piece of contemporary art. I bought a Milton Glaser silkscreen from his estate auction a few years ago—a treasure. I also collect art supplies but I try not to; I really try to use what I buy.

10. What words of advice would you give to your younger self?

It’s okay to ask for help. Also, adults don’t know everything.

11.In the last five years what new belief or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?

Nothing that recent. I’ve had a pretty solid routine for quite a while. I’m always hustling to pay the bills, so I have to be really disciplined to do everything I want to do in a day. I go to bed early, meditate twice a day, do yoga on weekday mornings, swim regularly, and accomplish whatever I can in the studio whenever possible.

12. Share an inspiring image.

This is Eva Hesse’s studio. She is such an inspiration to me—not because of the tragedies of her life or the fact that she was a woman in a male-dominated world but because her work was just so good. Those circle drawings almost bring me to tears when I see them. And her bold exploration of all sorts of materials—it takes real talent and skill to make found-object art that doesn’t look like a bunch of crap stuck together. She accomplished so much in such a short time and her influence continues to be important.

Kim Matthews is a part of our current group exhibition: OBJECT / IMAGE / AURA on ARTSY

James May Gallery | 2201 N Farwell, Milwaukee, WI | 262-753-3130

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