PRINT March 2020


Chason Matthams, Untitled (3D, red), 2020, oil and acrylic on panel, 40 × 40".

BRAD PITT’S NOSE IS WEIRD. Its bulbous tip seems vaguely clitoral in Chason Matthams’s 2011 oil painting of the star. It also reminds me of a Cézanne apple, trying to unfurl itself in every direction against its two-dimensional prison. Pitt’s chapped, full lips are tightly pursed, and his sallow, putty-like face is veiled in a thin layer of grease. His irises are a cloudy blue. And it appears as though someone has dislocated his left eye by digging their grimy thumb into the squishy area beneath it, just above the zygomatic bone, forcing the orb to sink deeper into its socket. Pitt’s not exactly handsome in this portrayal, but he’s not exactly unhandsome, either. The portrait is off-putting but affecting—tender, even.

Matthams based his painting on a photo of a waxwork replica of Pitt. The artist believes the effigy, which he found through a Flickr account, might be languishing somewhere in a touristy Russian museum. He’s not sure. But one thing he is absolutely certain of is how a gaze—whether fueled by affection, pity, fear, or rage—distorts the object of its attention, remolding it according to how we want to take it in, psychically and, yes, even physically. Think, for instance, of those Hollywood actors and actresses who go under the knife in order to look younger, tighter, and sexier for their insatiable fans. The film industry feeds on novelty and insecurity, of course. Yet it’s the power of our desires—to kiss Brad’s cheeks or caress his muscular arms, to stroke his thick blond hair or bust up his pretty white teeth—that shapes and reshapes people like him, along with anyone else we choose to scrutinize and contemplate with great intensity.

In this presentation, Matthams renders movie cameras—mechanical oculi—with astonishing technical facility and a fervent devotion. I am fixated on Untitled (multiple lenses, orange and red), 2019, which depicts a vintage model from Eumig, an Austrian manufacturer of AV equipment. (The company, now defunct, is famous for the Volksempfänger [People’s Receiver], a type of radio popular in the Third Reich: ALL OF GERMANY HEARS THE FÜHRER WITH THE PEOPLE’S RECEIVER, announced a Nazi broadside from the 1930s.) The full-frontal severity of Matthams’s subject is almost pornographic: Its soft-focus lavenders, powdery pinks, satiny grays, and lurid gingers call to mind the prurient colorways of a Hustler spread. I marvel at its precise facture, but there’s so much going on here beyond mere skill. Matthams captures a quiet violence, a latent evil, that unsettles as it seduces. I stare at his ravishing, villainous camera, and I’m pretty sure it stares right back at me—or into me, with more than a little ruthlessness. It makes me feel vulnerable and exposed. But I do rather enjoy the sensation.

Chason Matthams, 12th Street New York (detail), 2012, acrylic on canvas, 9 × 24'.

Chason Matthams, Rainbow Balloon 3 (red) with Thomas Moran’s “Rainbow over the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone”, 2018, acrylic on linen over panel, 16 × 20".

Chason Matthams, Untitled (large warm playback), 2015, oil and acrylic on panel, 48 × 60".

Chason Matthams, Wax Mannequin Brad Pitt, 2011, oil on canvas, 40 × 30".

Chason Matthams, Corsage (green, orange, and pink), 2019, oil on linen over panel, 14 × 18".

Chason Matthams, Rainbow Balloon 5 (a bigger rainbow and a rainbow within) with Thomas Moran’s “Rainbow over the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone”, 2019, acrylic and oil on linen, 39 × 52".

Chason Matthams, Untitled (multiple lenses, orange and red), 2019, oil on panel, 24 × 18".