Peter Matthews: Surroundings

With the Force of the Pacific Ocean (Hawaii) 2012; mixed media on paper, 58cm x 58cm (Series of 40 drawings)
With the Force of the Pacific Ocean (Hawaii) 2012; mixed media on paper, 58cm x 58cm (Series of 40 drawings)
With the Force of the Pacific Ocean (Hawaii) 2012; mixed media on paper, 58cm x 58cm (Series of 40 drawings)
With the Force of the Pacific Ocean (Hawaii) 2012; mixed media on paper, 58cm x 58cm (Series of 40 drawings)
With the Force of the Pacific Ocean (Hawaii) 2012; mixed media on paper, 58cm x 58cm (Series of 40 drawings)
The Invisible Made Visible (2013); salt from the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean and steel box. Length 46x28x26cm

Surroundings presents recent works by British artist Peter Matthews, including 15 stream of consciousness drawings and a video-work, all created while the artist was adrift in isolation for prolonged periods of time off the Pacific Coast of Hawaii.  

In the broadest sense, Matthews' practice concerns the natural world that is mapped and recorded through his own physical processes that draw attention to the futility of the individual and his action in the greater environment. The resulting works combine a fascination with the mystical and sublime, articulated through an obsessive and wholly subjective recording of the lull of the tides. Matthews is captivated by a repetitive and insatiable desire to understand elements of the natural world that - although calculable and explainable through modern science - seem to evade our emotive comprehension: who we are and what is our purpose in the universe is always an emotive concept, and despite calculable reasoning, Matthew's reminds us that, as humans, we operate as solipsistic and rather insignificant remarks on a much greater temporal and spatial plane.

It is a largely poetic concept previously and most commonly explored by 20th Century literary genius: Coleridge or Kant, where it is equated with wonderment and terror in equal measure. Metaphorically, it recalls Borges' endless Library of Babylon, which romantically and incomprehensibly holds a copy of every book ever published: each edition, every language, and particular copy. Modern science understands that the human brain can only picture numbers of up to a dozen, maybe twenty - cognitive thought collapses at one thousand or one billion: we simply cannot 'picture it', and these individual elements become folded abstract concepts for us to ponder metaphorically, or otherwise entirely. 

As a persona, even more directly, we are able to draw correlations between Matthews as artist and the woebegone, seafaring Santiago in Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea -  adrift at sea, captured somewhere between mortality and respect for his great adversaries - the fish, the sea; or Coleridges Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, for Matthews' albatross is a practice defined by the artistic obsess, leading him repeatedly, over the course of a number of years, to the Ocean to attempt to record and understand its vast brilliance. 

Through the simplicity of the works, Matthew's comments as much on performance and 'the conceptual' as he does the two-dimensional picture plane. For these are drawings that are not really about drawing at all, but rather about man's inability to recapture the momentary sublime held in the vastness of nature, the bleak romanticism in the ocean as it consumes and intoxicates. Through extended hours (sometimes Matthews will abscond himself for up to 9 hours, adrift alone at sea,) Matthews is working in real time through a very direct approach and immediate relationship with the ocean, where it becomes evident that his process is so much less about draftsmanship or material and more about an idea connected to nature and personal spirituality: through the drawings, Matthews seeks to question and challenge the nature of the image as something that requires subject matter. He questions us, as to whether the drawing can capture an essence, a thought, a momentary fleeting feeling. 

For Matthews, there is an immediacy and connectivity in his practice that articulates something that even a painting cannot - for a painting is about production, and these drawings are not about the artist's studio or statement: they are about a place and moment in time. Most recently, he has begun pairing his works with videos which offer perhaps the most straightforward documentation of a practice defined by its very indefiniteness, its incalculability, and the presence of video may be more apt to contextualize something that drawing, even after hours and hours drifting in the ocean, may not be able to fully explain for his viewer. 

As a science of incomprehensible thought, one might consider his through even the same viewfinder that considers an artist like JMW Turner, for both were concerned with the artistic exploration of a sense of the natural sublime through (what was considered to be at the time) a largely abstract handling of conventional media. Or perhaps more contemporarily, his drawings reference the celebrated Drawing Restraint series that has defined Matthew Barney's career as one of concept and idea more than it could ever be summed through excellence in any one media. Similarly, Matthew's work is motivated by the notions of discovery and exploration, the journey to jettison oneself from a world that is radically changing in speed, scale, direction, and to realign oneself back with the cosmic cycles of being a human being questioning where we are in the universe.


PETER MATTHEWS graduated in Fine Art with Honours from Nottingham Trent University (2001) where he obtained his MFA (2003). He has been included in numerous group exhibitions internationally The Experience of Time through Contemporary Art North Carolina Museum of Art, North Carolina and Pratt Manhattan Gallery, New York, USA (2013); Sea Journeys, Künstlerhaus Dortmund, Germany (2013); Glasklar Milchig, Forum Factory, Berlin, Germany (2013) and Drawn, Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, England (2013). He also had recognized solo exhibition including Continuum, James Cohan Gallery, New York, USA (2011) and Sea Marks, Mendes Wood Gallery, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2011). This is Matthew's second time exhibiting with Beers.Lambert Contemporary, but his first solo exhibition with the gallery.