Art Week

Matthew Picton at Mark Woolley Gallery

by Prudence F. Roberts

“This work is about the disintegration and decay of the physical and material world.” In this statement Matthew Picton clearly stakes the territory he aims to examine in a series of works—most are best described as ‘drawings’—that have their origins in cracked paving. For the past six years, Picton has been tracing, photographing and casting the patterns of lines on the surfaces of parking lots, highways and alleys, primarily in the southern Oregon towns of Ashland, Medford and Klamath Falls. He has translated his data into various media—sometimes as whimsical as slinkies and cake sprinkles, in other instances, as restrained as pen and ink on paper. Whether glittery and kinetic or cartographic and austere, the pieces in this ongoing series have shown Picton’s fascination with the contest between humankind and the natural environment. In his works, he suggests that larger forces, issues played out on a global scale, can also be discerned—or mirrored, as he puts it—in the asphalt microclimates he scrutinizes.

As Picton notes in his artist’s statement, the cracks that attract him are themselves “a form of process drawing.” Thus, he is in a sense, faithfully mapping what is there and providing a record that captures a particular moment in an ongoing process of changes and disintegration. His recent show at Mark Woolley Gallery was installational: Each individual object amplified or informed the meaning of the others.

Picton showed three bodies of work: his Road Surface drawings, his Cut-Out drawings and his Cast Roadway paintings. The former, which are elegant, large-scale ink drawings, look at first glance like aluvial maps or outlines of continents one can’t quite place, in which smaller waterways flow into larger, denser confluences. Picton achieves this bird’s-eye quality, in part, by compressing space, so that hundreds of digital photographs of a 200-foot expanse of a parking lot, in one example, are condensed into a drawing of forty-six by 
fifty-four inches.

In contrast, the cutout drawings are to scale. These hover in a fascinating milieu. By etching the lines of a tracing into Mylar, then burning away all but those lines, which are strengthened with several coats of enamel (they look as if they’re made of glossy dried paint), Picton achieves a hybrid form. These plastic lines exist in space, freed from the restriction of the plane surface. The cutouts are suspended from the wall with pins and move subtly, depending on humidity and air currents. The accompanying webs of faint shadows add a certain weightiness and sense of mystery to these pieces, qualities particularly evident in Cut-Out Drawing #3, Briscoe School Playground.

If the drawings can be seen to traverse effortlessly between positive and negative states, Picton’s Cast Roadway paintings are earthbound: transcriptions of the physicality of a road’s surface. They begin, quite literally, as castings made by hammering sheets of plasticine onto a patch of asphalt, chosen again for its crack patterns, but also for its contours and its texture. These castings are then made into molds and cast in thick slabs of transparent and brilliantly colored rubber: smooth on the outer surface so that the relief “sculpture” is seen at a slight remove, as if covered in a layer of gel, and cannot be touched. Most of these paintings are wall-mounted in front of a mirror, so they are illuminated from the back. In these pieces, mass, color and light matter more than line. And while they are undeniably beautiful, they do not have the reach and the poetry of Picton’s drawings. (Prudence F. Roberts)