a Hell for Rainbows
Over the course of his career, Matthams has cast a wide net, reeling in images from all over the digital spectrum, their forced juxtapositions leading to pointed and humorous commentary on the symbols and stories with which we choose to tell individual and collective histories. Here the artist continues his project of attempting to condense an array of disparate information into a narrative, though in AHell for Rainbows, he has chosen to hone in on specific elements.
Revisiting imagery from previous work—classical busts, camera equipment, and elements from the natural world—and casting it under a different light, Matthams highlights how more macro-cultural mythologies are shifted and redefined over time. Various themes and myths are condensed in his new bust paintings, echoing how motifs and hero archetypes wend their way from Gilgamesh into popular culture box offices. While this reframing of meaning to suit contemporary needs may end in escapist fantasy, we can’t help but resonate with the fundamental myths that still shape the culture around us.
Backdropped by Thomas Moran’s then-galvanizing depictions of natural beauty, Matthams presents the rainbow, itself a utopian and escapist symbol, in various states of diffusion on a shiny, ephemeral balloon. Its spectrum increasingly refracted, the seemingly tainted forms of the prototypical image nod to the impossibility of an unimpaired and objective perspective as its full spectrum of hues collapse in on themselves, losing some hues entirely. The rainbow balloon is both a bastardization of the original natural splendor it represents and a celebration of it.
In Matthams’ corsage paintings, the vibrant blooms are set in contrast to the materiality and geometry of their containers. While the corsage can be viewed as a symbol of a celebratory event, the plastic box, along with the eventual wilting of the encased flowers, calls to mind a casket. Similarly, the rigid casings of the cameras do their best to capture the ephemeral and daunting light of their surroundings. However, the camera’s lens can only record that at which it’s pointed, and surrounding elements, however crucial, are rendered superfluous by the limiting scope of the frame. Matthams has painted cameras previously, though these are altered, pointed in new directions, focused on a new source of light, stressing the importance of refreshing one's own organizing principles as stories and symbols shift in meaning, all while knowing this new calibration, too, will soon fall out of focus.