November 19, 2010
Art works by Knox College faculty and alumni who studied with an influential 20th century artist and educator are featured in an exhibit at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.
The exhibit, "The Artistic Legacy of Mercedes Matter: The Knox College Students of Mercedes Matter," showcases works by artists connected with Knox who studied with Matter -- Lynette Lombard, associate professor of art at Knox, along with Knox alumni Jason Eisner '95, Jenny Hager '93, Joren Lindholm '95, Christopher Reno '98, and Megan Williamson '82.
Photos top and below, gallery pictures of The Artistic Legacy of Mercedes Matter: The Knox College Students of Mercedes Matter; at right, website of the Figge Art Museum; all images courtesy Figge Art Museum
"The works by Knox artists in this exhibit are a testament to Mercedes Matter's demanding, incisive mode of instruction and her self-professed goal to help students 'make their own way into the future'," said Gregory Gilbert, associate professor of art history at Knox, senior curator at the Figge and curator of "The Artistic Legacy of Mercedes Matter: The Knox College Students of Mercedes Matter."
A major figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement, Matter, who died in 2001, founded the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. The Knox faculty/alumni show is a companion to another exhibit at the Figge, "Mercedes Matter: A Retrospective Exhibition."
In the 1990s, several Knox graduates -- including the artists represented at the Figge -- continued their studies with Matter at the New York Studio School. Lombard and Reno, one of the Knox graduates who studied at the New York Studio School, gave a talk in October at the Figge about Matter's innovative teaching philosophy.
"I learned a great deal in her class about discipline and focus in the studio, about the particularity of color and the value of slow decisions," Reno said in the notes to his painting that is part of the show.
In 1997, Lombard and Knox colleague Tony Gant created an off-campus program, "Knox in New York," that includes work at the New York Studio School. The program features ten weeks of study at Knox followed by two weeks of museum visits in New York and intensive classes at the New York Studio School.
Matter's teaching "was inseparable from her personal commitment as a painter," Eisner said. "The notion that your life hangs in the balance with each gesture, and how the boundaries of an artist's vision are not contained within the dimensions of the rectangle -- these are the things I learned from Mercedes Matter."
"Mercedes Matter: A Retrospective Exhibition" was curated by Ellen Landau of Case Western Reserve University. During 2009-10 it was on display at the Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College, New York; the Weisman Gallery at Pepperdine University, California; and Guild Hall at East Hampton, New York.
"The Mercedes Matter retrospective is a perfect complement to another exhibit at the Figge, 'A Legacy for Iowa: Pollock's Mural and Modern Masterworks from the University of Iowa Museum of Art'," said Gilbert, whose research specialty includes Abstract Expressionism. The "Legacy for Iowa" exhibit features a mural by Jackson Pollock and more than 20 other works from Abstract Expressionist artists.
The display, "A Legacy for Iowa: Pollock's Mural and Modern Masterworks from the University of Iowa Museum of Art," is a continuing exhibit at the Figge Art Museum. The Mercedes Matter shows are on exhibit through Jan. 2, 2011.
The Figge is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday, and 12-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for students and persons 60 and older, $4 for children ages 3-12, and free to Figge Art Museum Members.
Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 45 states and 48 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Excerpts from the artist's statements and selected works from "The Artistic Legacy of Mercedes Matter: The Knox College Students of Mercedes Matter"
Jason A. Eisner (painting at right)
"I was a student of Mercedes Matter at the New York Studio School from 1996 to 1998. Her emphasis as an educator was inseparable from her personal commitment as a painter... The urgency of mark and of placement, that sense of touch, the notion that your life hangs in the balance with each gesture and how the boundaries of an artist's vision are not contained within the dimensions of the rectangle -- these are the things I learned from Mercedes Matter."
"Mercedes Matter's rigorous ethic of risk taking and moving any given media beyond a comfort zone created an atmosphere of intense investigation within the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. After attending the Studio School for two years and moving into abstraction and non-representation, I found this confidence in risk-taking greatly informed my work and my desire to investigate the discomfort of the unknown."
Joren A. Lindholm (painting at right)
"No matter how many mutations I take my work through, the ways I arrange the structure and color remain steadfast... In composing images today, I feel I can endow the illusion of space with many different possibilities to enhance the portrayal of subject and meaning..."
"I learned a great deal in her class about discipline and focus in the studio, about the particularity of color and the value of slow decisions. All of these things I struggled with and still do. I am still trying to learn color 'the Mercedes way.' "
Megan Williamson (drawing below right)
"When I graduated from Knox College, I worked and saved money to move to New York to attend the New York Studio School. Mercedes Matter played a huge role in my art education and in radically altering my understanding of how to live a life in the arts... The New York Studio School set me on a path of artistic curiosity, adventure and invention that I am still on to this day."
More about Mercedes Matter
Gregory Gilbert, Knox College/Figge Art Museum
"A notable figure within the American avant-garde of the 1940s and 1950s, Mercedes Matter (1913-2001) is best known as the founder of the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture... An early proponent of advanced abstraction, Matter was also a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group, one of the few organizations in the United States during the thirties that promoted the cause of nonobjective painting...
"Matter was a proponent of painting directly from nature and her signature works are a unique fusion of gestural abstraction and a sensitive perceptual observation of landscape and still life motifs..."
Below, Tabletop Still Life, by Mercedes Matter, ca 1936, courtesy Figge Art Museum