Bay Guardian

Matthew Picton at Toomey Turrell

by Katy Kurtz

We so often take our relationships with people and with our environment for granted, assuming that the people will always be there and the landscape around us will remain the same. Then a hurricane sweeps through, you’re dislocated, and suddenly everything is viewed through a prism of absence, of what is not there, rather than what is. Matthew Picton is a cartographer of that absence. A sculptor and illustrator, he maps terrain using different methods and material to explore the contours of specific parts of a landscape. His work is an ongoing investigation of negative space, both conceptually and materially. Interpreting the environment and offering alternative representations of landscapes is a preoccupation of West Coast artists, and Picton’s recent body of work bears some semblance to Seattle artist Victoria Haven and Bay Area artist Adriane Colburn. All three create sprawling wall-mounted sculptures exploring some aspect of topography to different effect. Picton’s ‘cut out drawings’, made of Dura-Lar (a durable Mylar), capture roadway cracks from locations in Washington and around his home state of Oregon. Cut Out Drawing #8 14th ST., Seattle WA is from a section of road near where I lived in Seattle for six years before moving to SF, about a month ago. Rendered in a metallic blue, its veins cast a shadow on the gallery wall. Its displacement was jarring–it represented a piece of road I’d traveled hundreds of times and never thought twice about until I was 800 miles away. Picton’s illumination of an overlooked part of landscape also brings up questions of neglect, of what happens to something when we’re not paying attention. Cut Out Drawing #6, Briscoe School Playground, the largest piece in the show, at over seven feet tall and ten feet wide, is perhaps one of the more accurate portraits of a playground I’ve seen. What look like mini Rorschach drawings are hidden in the black grid: symbols and figures that resemble hearts, skulls, and figures. The work is haunted, and we can imagine the stories of what may have transpired on that particular piece of playground. The series of rock sections cast in plaster don’t have the same emotional impact as the delicate-looking drawings and seem more like a bridge between Picton’s previous work and something new he’s working toward. In the end, Picton proves that negative space doesn’t always have to be a vacuum.

Tues.–Fri., 11am–5:30pm; Sat., 11am–5pm, 49 Geary, fourth floor, SF (415) 989.6444, (Katy Kurtz)