Forgotten Dreams and Mysterious Objects


Carrier Pigeon Volume 3, Issue 3, pages 24 & 25.

When I first saw images of Sean Matthews’ print-inspired sculptures in Carrier Pigeon, the film Cave of Forgotten Dreams came to mind. If you haven’t see it, Werner Hertzog’s 2010 documentary takes viewers into the Chauvet caves of Southern France to film mankind’s oldest existent cave paintings. Herzog serves as narrator, sharing philosophical meanderings interspersed with anecdotes about the challenges of filming these rarely viewed treasures.

Matthews’ Visual Language series of sculptures are similar to the Herzog film, to me at least, in that they appear to be searching around in the darkness for something fundamental. At first glance, they seem rather simple, even clunky. The treatment of materials, wood and paper and ink, has a primal and timeless quality. Everyday lumber serves as pedestal and plinth while the wooden tools are sanded, stained, and polished. Mysterious objects, they speak very directly to the handmade in an era of aerodynamic, machine-manufactured industrial design. These works might be as comfortable in an anthropological museum as a contemporary art gallery.

Matthews is presenting tools frozen in time. These instruments are surrounded by clues of their usage and situated firmly in the realm of the functional but their strength may lie in their ambiguity. Like objects from a long-forgotten culture, they clearly serve a purpose (or do they just represent objects that serve a purpose?) but exactly what that might be remains unclear. Rudimentary printing technologies are used as a stand in for communication in it’s most basic form.

These works are part of an ongoing series that were inspired by a found typeset drawer. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Matthews’ artist statement verified my own reaction. To quote, “My most recent body of work, Visual Language, revolves around ancient pictographs, votive figures, 20th-century typeset blocks, and architectural blueprints. Although these subjects are conceptually disparate, I feel they share simple geometric characteristics. In this body of work I am attempting to print and sculpt forms that are recognizable but not necessarily representational, enabling the viewers to translate the work according to their experiences.”

He goes on to write:

Visual Language has been a journey that has led me down unfamiliar paths. Three years ago, while house hunting with my wife, I came across an antique typeset drawer that I purchased for $15.00 with the intention to fill each compartment with a small sculpture. As I was developing this composition I discovered that the dimensions of the compartments dictated a minimal aesthetic. I began exploring rudimentary forms and found myself relying upon the elements and principles of design. During this time, a colleague recognized the relationships between these frontal pieces and wood cut prints. He insisted that many of these forms could be represented in two-dimensions. The culmination of these conversations and the proper alignment of the stars resulted in a deeper investigation of visual grammar, a universal language that can be translated by anyone, and one that only relies on the viewers associations with shapes and forms.

There are lots of great printed works, and works about print, that are caught up in technical bravado; they start from a place of expertise and seek to elaborate further. What I find fresh about these works by Sean Matthews is that he seems to be rebuilding the process from scratch. As if to say, “let’s start at square one.” In this way, they almost seem to be “discovering” print as a means of communication.



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Categories: Artists, Artwork

One Response to “Forgotten Dreams and Mysterious Objects”

  1. Amze Emmons says:

    Great articulation of what’s at stake in Matthews work. I’ve been similarly obsessed ever since that issue of Carrier Pigeon arrived.