A discussion between Simon Liddiment and Matthew Davis
Outpost, Norwich / 1st August 2007.
Simon Liddiment: Hello Matt, this is a really obvious opener - but you are showing with the 'Continental Europeans' as part of the second leg of OUTPOST presents British & European Legs, yet you were born in Colchester, Essex - so what sense do you make of that?
Matthew Davis:Well, I have been living in Berlin for a while so I don't know if that qualifies me as a continental European?
SL:I think that's the simple understanding I was trying to draw out for the reader, but my real question is more along the lines of ……your very particular approach to painting has been developed over many years, much longer than your time in Berlin, so do you discern any influence from living in the city.
MD:It's hard to say directly, but back in the late Eighties when I was studying at Camberwell I was drawn towards German painters of that time. In contrast to the overriding cool minimalism that was going on in England, the “Neue Wilde” seemed vulgar, garish, and unashamedly expressive - I liked that. In Germany today that vulgarity is probably not so obvious in the work of its leading artists, but there is very much a raw ugliness evident in Berlin's fabric. As an artist, I think it can be quite useful to work in an environment that doesn't seem to be too concerned with notions of aesthetic value and taste. Berlin is heavily scarred and still pretty broken down and that's its virtue and one of the reasons it is so attractive to artists from all over the world.
SL:OK, well that allows me to bring together something contained in the press release, observations regarding your choice of subject matter - 'football stadia's floodlit skies and nocturnal fairgrounds' - that a sense of vulgarity might exist in your selected subjects, scenes and arenas of popular entertainment, with their inherently direct appeal to the senses.
MD:Yes, I think that's true. I am interested in 'sensational' subjects, with the power to mesmerise and draw people in, of which I think I am trying to develop a way of reproducing a sense of euphoria. Euphoria, I suppose, could be considered to be vulgar in that it is short lived or doesn't demand a learnt cultural response.
SL:So what does your process and handling of paint bring to these preoccupations? - They certainly lack the 'ego gestural' that that I associate with the school of 80's painting you mentioned before, as there is a cool distance achieved through the painting's use of a systematic device, your more or less controlled pooling and puddling of paint.
MD:The physicality of the surface counter balances the illusionary reading, but connects to the subject in another way through broader association - other kinds of knowledge and information. I am interested in the point at which these modes switch.
SL:The press release also contained what I took to be a musical analogy 'redeemed bum notes 'can you elaborate?
MD:I became distrustful of making gestural marks because it seemed too mannered, so I decided to drop or push the paint around and allow it behave as a liquid. So, your right in saying that there is some control, but not too much. I view the process of mark making, as a series of tiny adjustments there is a musical sense of free form construction that is tightened by the full cycle of its own grammar.