Note: Conflict of Interest. The artist I am writing about is showing at the Baltimore gallery that represents me. Obviously, if I had something really negative to say, I probably wouldn’t write this reivew, or I’d write it under a different name. However, I did like the show and the artist I am writing about. Therefore, if you have problems reading a ‘biased’ review, you should probably skip this one. – Cara Ober
I hear songs in my head when I look at Matthew Kern’s work. Acoustic road-trip melodies, with odd poetric lyrics and maybe a banjo and an off tune singer would be right. There is an earthiness which veers from the cheerful to the melancholy that I did not expect to find. They never tell the exact tale you expect and they don’t settle into predictability.
I went to Gallery Imperato last week to be supportive, but didn’t expect to fall in love with the work. I thought I might be bored. After all, the artist employs the same geometric composition to all of his pieces, so there is a general ‘sameness’ there. And we’ve all seen and probably even tried our hands at the photo collage – a decidedly undergraduate exercise, where you take all of the leftovers from art classes and juxtapose until you end up with something. This is what I expected, but not what I found.
There is a conflict in all of Kern’s work between opposite forces that keeps them lively and in motion. On one hand, there is a rigid consistency, but on the other, a lilting narrative that unfolds, shyly and subtly, across those squares. Kern uses polaroid transfers from an out-of-date camera which gives off a vague nostalgia, pushing us back from the exact images and into the rhealm of memory. Then the artist somehow imbeds hand-written text into the images, which appear burnt or printed and then sometimes, in a much smaller adolescent chicken scratch, scrawls the words, dots, and arrows onto their surface. There is a level of perfection and craftsmanship in these pieces that is seamless, but also a rawness and a search, which save these works from being too harmonious and sweet.
The handwriting looks familiar, but the words are unpredictable. They speak to personal journeys and experiences, giving us little bits and tastes, just enough to make us want to know more. The text weaves us in and out of the images, meandering in curved lines, and recreates the feeling of your brain making memories.
I don’t really mind remembering someone else’s journeys. They are vague enough to reconstruct into my own memories, but specific enough to surprise, again and again. This is the kind of work I like to live with, always a new revelation quietly surfacing.