Randi Matushevitz presented by Coagula Curatorial at the LA Art Show discusses theory, inspiration, and technique behind her series of HeadSpace portrait paintings. At the heart of these paintings are human emotions engaging a conversation about social connectivity. By exploring how these works were technically built up, we can uncover the layers of meaning laced through the patterns and brushstrokes.
RANDI MATUSHEVITZ: About a year ago I was working on a medical and art project and I was working with a doctor at USC who does cochlear implants. He showed me a video of a baby hearing for the first time and this baby had a beautiful expression on their face – this joy of hearing. I was inspired to want to capture feelings in artwork and so I created a painting called Happy to Hear You that captures this sense of joy, and in this case, hearing for the first time, and I translated that image. It’s in the pattern of space and time. I used patterning to capture this effervescent moment that we’re all in when you think one thing and then another, and experience one thing and another. As a painter I’m interested in painting these human connection experiences.
What I notice that is consistent with all the paintings is there is a figure in the foreground and then you have the pattern in the background – actually, the pattern overlaps.
It’s an evolution in a technical practice, a studio practice, of working with patterns. That is still something I am working on incorporating, the pattern on the front and the back of the image to create more of a sense of being in a time and a space. When I do create the work, I create in a whole painting atmosphere where I build it all up at the same time. So I’m patterning in the beginning and painting form, as well as in the end. Actually, the final eyes and lips, part of the expression, comes at the end. And sometimes more patterning.
So you really are more addressing the emotional.
Yes. I’m not as concerned about creating the exact facial representation. I feel that today in our world of phones and selfies and images and making ourselves look beautiful that it’s important to remind each other that we’re just people. And when you have many silent expressions going on every day, these micro expressions, that we understand an inaudible conversation. And that’s what I’m interested in.
The figures are very expressive. There’s a fluidity. You said you’re not as concerned with an accurate depiction …
I’m concerned with naturalism in a Baroque sense. I want them to feel alive. And that’s very important to me. That they feel like they’re speaking.
The brushwork is fast, there’s a lot of texture in the pigment.
It’s a lot of layers.
Right, there’s a lot of layers. What counters that are the patterns that are two-dimensional, flat, structured.
I don’t want to repeat patterns, as in fabric, and we go through different periods of time when pattern is more in our world and that decorating is a socio-biological need – to embellish ourselves, our environments. So one group of anthropologists agree that it is true and another group counters that. I believe we do that. I believe we care about how we look. So I believe there is an intuitive sense to decorate our environments based on the traditions of patterning and the history, and coming up through pattern and decoration and working with Miriam Schapiro in the past, I have chosen to use patterning and break pattern. So I’m not worried about the rhythmic repeat of the pattern as much as breaking it, and even layering it into the foreground of the forms. What you’re seeing before you, we’re talking about one painting, but as you see others, as I improve my myself in free technique and I’m interested in manipulating that and making my own mediums that I’m learning how to accentuate those marks and the pattern in the foreground.
Yes, time and space. And on another note, you can think of it in terms of: there are many of us who have been to or go to psychologists. And their primary goal is to teach us to break our patterns and create new ones.
So even these patterns have an internal symbolism to them. Even they are emotional.
Yes, and so this work is HeadSpace and it’s about where we are at any given time. They’re meant to capture the viewer. They’re complete when the viewer looks at them and they’re looking through a gaze. Not a male gaze, not a female gaze, but a human gaze. It’s very fluid. My intention is to create a space where both men and women and people who are non-binary can just be people. And we know that we all feel and we all have these different sensations. It’s that internal conversation that happens between the viewer and the painting. It’s that head space where you’re actually talking to yourself. Aren’t you? Even though they’re, the souls in the paintings are talking.
Is that why you focused on the head?
I do have some where I’m putting figurative and narrative back into it, and I’m experimenting going larger. I could talk about my practice as an experiment. I have a science background, so I’m always juxtaposing some things as I tweak it to grow. It’s important for me to not stay stagnant in my work. That would make me bored if I was just doing a formula. In view of that, it’s the way I juxtapose how I can make them more and more alive so the viewer can enter. I’m trying to reach the onlooker who can take them home and spend time with them. As I’m asking for a slow interaction, a slower gaze.
And I’ve been told by people who collect my work that they talk to them. They say things. They say, good morning. They say, how are you today, sometimes they say not so nice things. But it’s really only what you’re telling yourself.
They see themselves within the paintings.
Yes. Everyone. The people who have purchased them or saved post cards, they tell me that they love them. They see themselves, they see their situation. And they think they’re beautiful, which makes me very happy. They’re supposed to be. I love beauty. We all love beauty. But sometimes beauty is not perfect. And they’re imperfect and they’re frenetic and they’re visceral and they’re full of expressionistic mark, and that’s my passion. So I’m looking back to Baroque figurative work and I’m looking at contemporary abstract expressionistic mark, and I’m looking to patterning as just part of our world, as being a person in the world in time and place.
I’m drawing from a dynamic composition, in that sense that it takes the Renaissance further. It’s that human life. That’s one of the biggest things about the Baroque that stuck with me since I was first introduced. And you can look at portraits of Rembrandt, but for me it goes beyond portraits. It’s that life and those s-curves and spatial relationships.
And what about Impressionism?
Well Impressionism, even though my mark making is slightly different or what the palette might resemble, is that things are momentary. Truly, we are functioning on an impression. Think about how fast you go through your phone. (makes phone sounds) picture, picture, picture, Instagram, like, like, like, don’t like. We’re on a visual overload in this time period. I don’t think we realize how disconnected we are. We’re talking now and it’s delightful. To look at your face while we’re talking, and to look at your eyes and to watch your mouth and to see your brain working – even though I’m not Mr. Spock. I don’t have telepathy. I think you hit on something. I usually don’t mention impressionism. But it is Baroque and Impressionism and pattern, and I think that speaks to where we are now. Because technology and AI, as it grows, will keep us from really interacting.
That day at the hospital, why were you there? I’m curious because you said you had a science background.
A friend of mine, Ted Meyer, does a project with USC Medicine and Art and he pairs artists with different medical departments. He paired me with this doctor who did cochlear implants because he thought we would be a good fit. It just triggered something in me.
As well as a recent study, well it’s not recent, by Marcel Just from Carnegie Mellon has been researching using FMRI to map thought patterns in humans, male, female, no matter what country you’re from, what language you speak. If you think “happy”, it lights up in the same part of your brain. If you think sad, it’s in the same part of your brain. That is another thing that has inspired me to keep going with this emotional work. That we communicate on that level, that silent conversation as a survival skill, whether we know it or not. That’s not what I’m thinking about in the forefront of every minute, but those are some of the inspirations.
I’m surprised more artists aren’t drawing more from what we’re learning from science.
I think with time artists might of, but it hasn’t been in fashion to talk about it for a long time. And we’re coming out of a very conceptual period of art, we’ve been coming out of it for a while. That was the heavy thing – not what the image was, not creating the image yourself, but you had an idea whether you fabricated or created it. I think now it’s important to do all of it. I love to look at philosophers. Not just like Foucault who talked about the gaze or Derrida who deconstructs everything, but like, I forget his name, but he used to talk about happiness and the connection of a human smile. Do an experiment next time you walk through a place that makes you feel a bit awkward and is filled with strangers. I used to live in New York City and Miami, I grew up in Las Vegas. I’m used to seeing a lot of strangers, people I don’t know. And you can walk around and if you have a frown on your face, that’s what you’re going to see. But when you’re a little unsure of something, just a little smirk, not a big smile, someone will smile back 9 times out of 10. It’s a reminder. A human connection in a very big world. Which is now bigger and bigger. We’re global, because of our devices.
With all that said, it comes back down to I’m a painter. I wanted to paint in oil. I hadn’t painted in oil in many, many years. I thought I forgot. I learned a solvent free technique for myself, my health, the health of the environment. And through that I’ve reminded myself of why I want to paint the human form and the faces. We watch movies, and if you watch any TV show and you look at it and it’s close up of faces. Giant faces on our TV screens. All these things together brought me back to my studio practice. I’m really having a great time making these experiments. And like all experiments they work, and they fight me, and I have to solve them. It’s a journey and it’s a practice, and I love it. And really feel like I’ve hit my nerve.