WORDS: JACQUELINE FLINT
PHOTOGRAPHY: OLIVER KRUGER
In 2009, I fell in love with two girls on a couch. A redhead – sleeping peacefully…passed out? – and a raven-haired, thigh-high-boot-clad beauty, looking me straight in the eyes. Whether it was the aesthetic influence of the acid-yellows and neon shot through teal that hooked me, or the sense that I had disturbed these girls, I don’t know. Painting was never my thing, really. But this painting was. It was the gateway drug, and I’ve never looked back.
The painting was Matthew Hindley’s Kill the Lights!At the time, Hindley was causing a stir for switching from the modus operandiof an up-and-coming, left-of-centre new media artist, to that of a painter, exclusively. He had spent some time in Berlin, painting and soaking up the wonders of painters, including Neo Rauch and others associated with the New Leipzig School, who dedicated their practice to technical skill and figuration, without losing a sense of the fantastic and surreal in their work.
Kill the Lights!belonged to a body of work called Like, like, like, like a circus, comprising a number of monumental paintings, scaled like the great masters of painting – think Adolf von Menzel – with all the titles pilfered from Britney Spears. I wrote about that show, calling it “a lilting, uneasy dialogue – a multi-faceted narrative that is as lyrical as it is unsettling…the strange sensation of being simultaneously watched and watched over. The viewer-turned-voyeur is caught witnessing private or intimate moments between larger-than-life characters whose story is underscored by a nuanced darkness. In the same disquietened moment, one is overcome with a sense of reassurance that this darkness is one that sits at the base of our humanity and a kind to which each of us can relate.”
Ten years later (almost) when I visited Hindley in his studio to look at what he’s doing right now, I was confronted with a larger-than-life painting in progress. It was of two girls on a couch. One fair, one dark. One looking off into the distance, the other staring straight at me. Both girls are wearing shift dresses, purple and yellow, and the couch is strewn with other clothes.
I have looked at a lot of what Hindley has made between the then and the now, and in this fabulous moment of mirroring, I realised that most of what came through in that very first body of work that I loved, still holds true… He still engages with popular culture in an intensely meaningful way. He understands social media and uses it to his advantage. He also paints his studio walls raw umber, just like the Flemish old masters and Lucian Freud did, in order to not be dumbed down by white, to feel true colour pop as he paints. He still constructs shoots with his models in his studio. In so doing he discovers the parameters of the studio as creative utopia, and surveys his capacity to fascinate the viewer by way of perceived voyeurism.
The mirror also showed up shifts.
Although Hindley’s practice over the last decade or so has been dedicated mostly to portraiture, he took two years off from the genre to pursue an interest in painting fires and explosions – an exploration of the sheer, sick beauty of violence to which we are all so accustomed via the media. His source images were gleaned mainly from the internet – pictures of bomb wreckage, say, captured by someone on their smart phone and uploaded to Instagram along with a string of emojis and hashtags. During this time, he did some work at the David Krut Print Workshop. He went there to discover the monotype technique. He discovered instead that drypoint was far more interesting to him, and therefore yielded remarkable results, only one of which is the Ruin Lustseries of candy-coloured drypoint prints.
Drypoint is an intaglio technique, in which the artist draws straight into the copper plate with a sharp tool. The result is a line that is crisp on the inside, with a glowing halo of ink around it – the result of metal moving metal. As the artist scratches into the plate with his tool, like a plough through dirt, the copper forms a lip next to the line. Once the plate is inked up and then hand-wiped, ink remains inside the burr and is visible on the printed impression as a furry accompaniment to the line. With drypoint, it’s the artist’s hand against the copper, and the physical demands of the technique are real. Technically, the artist must also hone his understanding of drawing, because the presence of the burr is both unpredictable and greatly influential on the final image.
As often happens in the print workshop, the printmaking process cracked open areas of Hindley’s practice that might otherwise have been left unexposed. Making drypoints re-awakened Hindley to the power of the drawn line. The effect was immediately visible in his painting practice, in which he began to favour deft line work over colour manipulation to describe form. In his studio, the walls are scattered with the evidence: in order to achieve his decisive, form-shaping lines, Hindley needs exactly the right amount of paint on his brush. To get to that point, he paints first on the wall next to the canvas, and when it’s just right, onto the canvas itself.
Now that he has returned to portraits, painting once again from images shot in his studio, these preliminary and investigative lines make an appearance in the paintings too. While Hindley has always remained diligent to figuration, he has concurrently danced with abstraction. In earlier work he did this by creating abstract studies of the surfaces of his paintings – flipping canvases on their heads to let wet paint drip “upwards”, haphazardly spraying a pristinely painted ankle or crisp shirt collar with bright and unexpected colour; or speculating on the potential for abstraction in hair and fabric and flesh. In his most recent work, the forms are more crisply defined as a result of the line work, and abstraction makes an appearance via the studio walls – experiments for paintings as experiments in paintings.
Hindley’s own act of painting serves as a record of the moments and the happenings of the space he occupies. But it is also an extension of the space itself – both physical and metaphorical. Hindley’s work – still – tackles the fundamental schizophrenia that comes with confronting issues of identity, sexuality and death. These days it also contains the kind of self-reflexivity and poise indicative of a kind of creative maturation. And it’s tasty, like the best good wine.