REVIEWS AND ARTICLES
About six years ago, those of us who knew him could all finally understand how unbearable it was to be Matt Condron. A single image could leave Condron haunted for days. In the summer of 2000 he writes in an email to a friend: “I recommend seeing the Argentinean film ‘Man Facing Southeast’, not only because it’s one of the more interesting films I’ve seen but because there’s a shot in the film that includes an incredible tree, what a tree! – I think you’d appreciate it. I have it on VHS if you ever want to rent it from me.”
In late 2000, Condron, finding his lot unbearable, put brush to canvas in an attempt to alleviate a singular burden. The results – remarkable paintings of the otherwise unremarkable – located the Southern California native just left of center on the photorealism artistic map. Condron’s works were notable not just for their technical ability – he’s had no formal training to speak of – but for their emotional content.
In ‘Granted'(2003), a 1970-style diner counter – complete with chrome-sided stools sits empty, its half-light shared only by an outdated coat rack. The stool’s concave cushions betray decades of use. It’s a recurring scene in Condron’s work. “It’s these lowdown diners,” he says, “rich with history and the ass and elbow grease of generations of bacon and egg lovers…piss-poor coffee and white bread toast that I feel are taken for granted.”
Condron’s paintings can evoke a powerful nostalgia for something you didn’t even know you were nostalgic for. Sometimes it creates nostalgia or even outright longing for something you didn’t even particularly care for in the first place. In ‘Whittier Blvd., Evening'(2005) the molded plastic tables and chairs of a chili-dog stand reflect the red traffic lights in the dismal street outside, where power lines choke a lilac sky. But oh! How you want to be there! Weren’t you there? You come away feeling used, like Condron dug up a private experience you had not shared with anyone, of that time you bent down to tie your shoelaces and saw the secret world beneath the seats.
Lacking human figures, the paintings are forceful invitations: the viewer is immediately inserted into the position of Unwitting Subject. The result can be uncomfortable when you connect with an image only to realize that you have never been on an old school bus at midday in Moab, Utah ‘Infatuation'(2001).
Like every Condron painting, ‘Infatuation’, explores his preoccupations, chief among which are a 1970’s stylistic sensibility, his own temerity and simultaneous desire to get himself out of the way. Condron says that one of the things he’s after is to create stillness and a sense of solitude. “I choose to paint the familiar, something that is recognizable at once. This way the work of deciphering the image is done, allowing instead for time to just “dwell” in the scene.
Late afternoon sun bathes an aluminum desk and the most scholastic of chairs in ‘The Upper Division'(2005). You are an interloper in the otherwise empty classroom. At the chalkboard, elongated erasers sit beneath smeared words. Whatever was being communicated is gone with the communicator and those who would have benefited. You are precisely too late for whatever it was, and too early for whatever comes next: this is the in-between time that Condron cultivates and explores. Nothing in particular is happening but you are compelled to stand there, unblinking in the doorway. Turning away, as it must have been for Condron, is almost unbearable.
Pt. Reyes Light, May, 2006
Matt Condron’s interest in art began behind the lens of his 35mm camera. However due to deficient printing methods and dissatisfying results during the advent of the digital switch in the process, Condron’s interest shifted from the camera to the canvas. For more than a decade, Matt Condron has painted unoccupied objects with reverence for his subject and astonishing technical prowess. His painstakingly rendered images of vacant chairs invite viewers to share a moment of quiet with him. Condron is captivated by the idea of emptiness, as both a suggestion of solitude and as a state rife with the possibilities of change and fulfillment. He seeks out familiar scenes, often incorporating imagery based on his own nostalgia. By choosing places that seem to have been abruptly vacated, he attempts to awaken a connection to the moment before, or to the quietude he preserves inside himself in the form of memories.
Curator, Bakersfield Museum of Art
Finding or creating a sense of place is also the main focus of Matt Condron’s realistic paintings. Recalling the linear manner of straight-on photography, his work should not be lumped together with photo-realism since it has a light-handed painterly texture and a narrative that viewers can augment with their own imagination. Take for example, a row of plastic bucket seats, the kind found in coin-laundries or gas stations. Condron has transformed those seats into bright yellow confections that resemble the pricey hard candy found in upscale patisseries or that might grace a modernist designer’s showroom (Eames, anyone?).
A realist painter, he achieves such transformations though the power of his technique and a spot-on eye for color. Lest the arrangement transgress into saccharine, the depiction of a large chain bolting it to the floor brings one back to the realities of life in the lower echelons. Then again, he transforms the interior of a school bus into a realistically rendered and somewhat abstracted composition of light, color and form. Condron has hued the interplay of shadow and light on the seats surface in a way that makes one speculate what its occupants might see had they indulged in a few hallucinogens soft oranges and pinks livened with a bit of red set against the monochromatic desert-scape seen through the windows. He is drawn to architectural settings gas stations, train depots, hotels and stark interiors and he calls them misanthropic scenes since he has no interest in painting people. However, one will note a preponderance of chairs or other seating arrangements which he says are stand-ins for people since face it, we spend a lot of time sitting. Nor does he have any interest in abstraction. I am strictly a representational painter he says, adding that he works from photographs. Like a photographer, I compose through the lens and, in the studio, commit myself to the scene. This means that he hardly makes any alterations, except for perhaps eliminating superfluous objects and errant people. He expects viewers to supply the human element by interacting with scenarios that, at times, reflect inner complexity and a bit of angst as evident in the melancholy composition ‘Recovering’.
Condron says that he has made only 60 paintings to date, describing the process of technical learning and inner discovery as slow. And, unlike more experienced painters, he is not hung-up on process or blathering endlessly about it. For him, it’s all about getting out what had been inside him since early adolescence. The same confidence that drives his painting also propelled him into his first solo show in 2001, followed by group shows as far afield as New York and Alabama. Peter Blake, after seeing several works in print and one actual painting, included the relative newcomer in this month’s three-man show along with Blake veterans Gregg Renfrow and Donnie Molls. ‘Peter offered me a show over the telephone, before I even sent that one painting’, recalls Condron.