Studio Visit: Matthew Shelley
Matthew Shelley is an artist living and working in Connecticut. His work can be seen in PLEAT's June 2018 exhibition as well as matthewgshelley.com.
Please describe your work.
At the moment I'm mostly drawing, but in the past I've worked with collage and painting as well. I'm usually working in one of those three disciplines. I also do collaborative work with my girlfriend Lily Angotti. Our combined work is a soft sculpture made up of fabric, painting, and drawing. The finished form hangs like a wall relief.
As far as the subjects in my work go, I'm usually positioned somewhere between abstraction and representation. Sometimes more on one end of the spectrum than the other. Spatial illusion is a constant issue in my work, which I use as a counterpoint to my abstract influences. Most of my work has some element of illusionistic depth and shadow play, but the forms I use are rooted in abstraction. The tension between those opposing ideas is something I try to bring to the forefront in my work. Pattern is of real interest to me lately because it's something that is equally abstract and representational at the same time.
What internal and external factors motivate your conceptual choices?
I don't think I understand my motivations until way after the work has been produced and had some time to age. I guess the factors are mostly internal because in the studio it's always me with me. Sometimes years after a piece has been finished it will make obvious sense to me, but when I'm involved in the making I try not to think about it. There's a lot of repeating elements in my work, which helps me make sense of my interests, but I try to keep it open ended. If I'm using something over and over again then I try to think about why that is, but I don't put too much pressure on it.
I think of the studio as a place where a lot of different interests can come together, and the work is a moment when those interests collide and form visual combinations. I look for moments that confuse me and then use the work as a vehicle to understand it, to make sense of it, or sometimes to further confuse it. Hopefully when someone sees the work they get some sense of the ideas at play because the same stuff is showing up over and over.
Who are your artistic influences and what have you learned from them?
Linn Meyers work is always incredible and has had a big influence on my recent work. Aron Johnston and Joshua Marsh are other artists that I really look up to. They have a big emphasis on drawing which I can relate to. Christian Little and Matt Hansel are two of my favorite artists right now. Those guys are great because their work is so hard to position; I think what they're making is really unique and that's very difficult to achieve.
Ed Ruscha, Vija Celmins, and Roy Lichenstien are all major influences as well. If I had to highlight one thing I've tried to learn from each of these people, it's probably patience. That's something I struggle with, so it's important to be reminded to slow down a little. I think that all of the artists I mentioned have taught me something about that.
How has social media affected your studio practice?
That's tough to say. There's obvious benefits. I get insight into studios, learn about new work, and have gathered tons of new influences from Instagram.
But there's some definite problems as well. I think media in general has accelerated the studio pace in some unhealthy ways. There's a kind of panic that can infiltrate the studio experience. A pressure to constantly produce, publish, and exhibit new work. In the past you might work out an idea for a year or two before sharing it with people. Now it's a daily thing. You don't have the time to really develop an idea before feeling like it has to go public. It's impossible to be that self-conscience while trying to develop something new.
The environment right now is really distracting, and that makes it difficult to find an authentic voice. Good work takes time to develop, and the increased speed can cut a growth period short. I often wonder how this period of art history will age. I'm not sure how contemporary art, my work included, will look in 50 years. Hopefully it will still make sense in hindsight, but I'm not totally sure all the time.