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Matthew Rose: Paper, Scissors and Books


Matthew Rose, whom I told you about recently, is an American-born artist and writer based in Paris. Among other things, he writes regularly for Art and Antiques magazine and writes and edits the Paris page of the online art the magazine. He’s lived in Paris for 15 years, eight at his current apartment in the 14th arondisment near Denfert-Rochereau, an arty part of town next to Montparnasse, where Hemingway, Beckett, Yves Klein and the other artists and literati once hung out in the cafe/brasseries La Coupole and Le Select.

Matthew Rose
Collage by Matthew Rose from his show Hertzschmertz in Berlin.

Rose walked Stella and me around the neighborhood the day we visited him, past the Montparnasse Cemetary where lie the bones of Charles Baudelaire, Brancusi, Brassai, Andre Citroen (the car company founder), Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Man Ray, Simone de Beauvoir, and others. It was after dark so we couldn’t go in but apparently the cemetary’s a nice walk, not as showy as Pere LaChaise but interesting architecturally and with some sculpture of note. The legendary La Coupole was open so we walked in and looked around. The brasserie where Yves Klein had his wedding party, in this, the year of Klein’s centenary, has turned its walls over to the artist with a show of documentary photography about his life and art. It was a great show with an illustrated brochure to boot.

The artist expatriate

Collage by Rose

So why move to Paris I wanted to know. Rose (b. 1959) told me that after graduating from Brown and leading a successful life as an artist and freelance writer in New York, he left for Paris wanting to challenge himself.

He had an artist’s residency in Paris for over a year and after that he’s lived in apartments. He told me he rented from Orlan, the French artist whose art involves plastic surgery on her face. I’ve seen a video on Orlan and was frankly appalled and didn’t understand the impulse to undergo the knife in the cause of art. But Rose knows her quite well and demurred when I offered my negative opinion on her art.

Matthew Rose
Book by Matthew Rose, this is called, God.

Rose’s current apartment is a nice-sized place in a building with an elevator. He lives and works in the space and the place, which brims with stacks of materials, frames, books and finished art reminded me of other artist’s houses where a comfortable clutter is the decorating motif and might just be necessary to stoke the artist’s imagination. In the case of Rose, whose collage art, book art and stamp art is additive and cottens to a baroque surreality, the cornucopia of stuff feeds into the art which is exuberantly super-rich in imagery and surreal in content.

Matthew Rose
Nervous Yellow, collage.

I asked Rose about his source material for the collages and he said more or less he looked around and cut and snipped from whatever. And he uses a scissors not an exacto, something that surprised me, having worked with many a dull scissor and getting horrible results.

Rose had been to Berlin recently to show some work at Galerie Tristesse Deluxe and while there he picked up some antique children’s books that have been making it into his works. He was excited about his find and showed me the books. As I thumbed through them, with their 30’s or 40’s-era figures engaged in small-town, earnest endeavors I wondered if maybe Neo Rauch‘s aesthetic (if not his themes)–comes from this source material as well.
The artist in Denver at his show “Spelling with Scissors.” He told me there were 800 some works in the show and now I see how that is possible!

The artist tossed off in passing at some point during our visit that he had written a novel. I had forgotten that until just now while looking through his website for information about his shows. What I also forgot is that the novel’s available free online as a pdf download. The book’s called PLAN B: THE SECRET JOURNALS OF VON SPATZL with the hero billed as “a suicidal day trader” who is searching for life’s meaning along with someone called “the Austrian girl.” It starts out with a rather lurid scene of an attempted suicide by the hero, but when I scrolled down to P. 319, I read happily that Von Spatzl was still there, having made it through whatever adventures ensued and wound up on the last page in what may be a grave yard, with a spade in his hand and a thick fog descending.

Poster for Rose’s recent show in Denver. The artist exhibits widely. Some dealers took his work to the Affordable Art Fair in New York last Spring and they’ll be showing his scribble drawings in London in February.

Scribble Drawings

Rose told us he liked to give himself project to do over the holidays. The projects were time-limited and one of them, the Scribble Drawing series, from 2004, particularly intrigued. The series of works on found antique paper are the artist’s attempt to understand Jackson Pollock and the impulse to make gestural abstraction.

Scribble drawing, Night

Using a waxy crayon, the artist laid down a nice uniform shiny surface. Then he started to work, making rhythmical undulating overlapping lines of various colors and thicknesses. He sometimes scraped back into the surface to reveal the underlying paper (a violent act whose marks read as concave scars or scabs on the surface.) The pages flowed from his hand over many days and nights in December, 2004. He stamped each drawing with its date. And now, the series is travelling to London to be shown by Art Vitam at the art fair at the Royal College of Art, Feb. 22-25.

Japan Sea, which scrapes and scratches lines into the crayon surface.

Rose said he now understood gestural abstraction and where you would/could go with it. He showed me the last work he made–a piece made on the floor that shows the vestiges of the wood flooring in dark stripes that are a counter to the undulating rhythm of the gestures. The stripes turn the piece into an object that refers to another object instead of to itself and thus throws gestural abstraction into a more conceptual realm–exactly where Jasper Johns went with his flags. Warhol made Brillo Boxes into conceptual art at about the same time and we’ve never looked back, with concepts in the driver’s seat. It’s not a bad thing. It just is.

The artist, who also makes artist’s books using a combination of drawing, painting and collage, showed us a book of cartoons that he’d made and said that his friend, the artist Ron English told him they’d make terrific billboards. I actually think that’s a great idea. How great if the world’s billboards were cartoons or other art instead of cigarette ads.

I’m going to let this go and mention that Rose, wearing his writing hat, produced a piece in the 1990s for Vogue Magazine that was a behind the scenes look at famous artist’s studio assistants (like David Salle’s assistant, eg). The piece — in spite of getting the green light, going through its revisions and being ok’ed and having all the photo spreads done — never ran. Mystery. But we are intrigued and would love to see the story and Rose promised that he’d fish the piece out of storage and look at it and send it to us so we can publish it on artblog. So stay tuned for that little bit of art history unearthed for a new age.