Summary of Mercedes Matter
Matter was one of that select group of female artists who manged to make their voice heard within the masculine roar of the New York School. Inspired initially by the teachings of Hans Hofmann, and through her close connection with Arshile Gorky, Matter adopted a painterly technique of gestural abstraction that was driven by oppositional forces in nature. Her still lifes, the subject matter that dominates her oeuvre, are characterized by sharp and energetic "oppositions" which she made her own by applying rhythmic bursts of vivid coloring. In the second half of her career, Matter also emerged as an outspoken critic of dogmatic arts education and became a national torchbearer for studio-led learning as founder of the influential New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture.
- Matter adopted Hans Hofmann's well known "push/pull" theory. She too observed opposites in the natural world - colour/shape; positive/negative; forward/reverse; light/dark - but as she developed, Matter brough a greater subtlety to her works largely through a method of tonal shading. Moving beyond Hofmann's binary oppositions, her work allowed for more depth and movement to emerge in her abstract canvases.
- The still life was a subject that Matter returned to repeatedly throughout her long career. Her still-lifes were grounded in observation but she adopted a technique that explored space through the use of colour and line to represent the gaps and recesses between objects (plants, table-top and floor space for instance) as well as abstract representations of the objects themselves.
- Although it often worked to her detriment (through her frustrating inability to complete works), Matter was steadfast in her conviction that a painting was only complete when it took on a transcendental element; that being a spiritual quality that corresponded with the artist's own perception and experience. It was a concept she learned from Alberto Giacometti whose sculptures inspired her search for the experiential constituent of art making.
- Matter ran a successful parallel career as a teacher. Through her own teaching experience, she had observed first-hand how the arts education system was numbing the students' senses through the steady reduction in studio time. She set about redressing this deficiency and founded the influential New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. As the name suggests, the School gave precedence to students' studio work and Matter retained a life-long attachment to a School that has become an institution.
Biography of Mercedes Matter
For Matter art was a "process"; an act of deep contemplation. "One can have a tremendous intellectual grasp and be incapable of putting down a cogent mark on a piece of paper", she remarked wryly, but then the "study of art is very much concerned with the putting down of the mark. And this is the slow and lengthy process".