MATTHEW BOURBON
at Avis Frank Gallery
by Todd Camplin

It took me a month to reflect on Matthew Bourbon’s show at Avis Frank Gallery. I think because I knew
this was very dense material in the paintings and I was hesitant to go with my first impressions. Bourbon’s
current show “Arch Deceivers” requires you to look and then think further about his content and the
paint itself.

A running theme in several of the paintings was the depiction of other art pieces. Composer
Claude Debussy proclaimed that “art is the most beautiful deceiver. . .”  and Bourbon’s
reference to other pieces gives another layer to his deception through repetition. In the
painting Inscrutable Author, I am reminded of all the art auctions I have been to, where
the works are 12 x 12 or 7 x 7, and everyone is talking in front of the art and not really
looking. Bourbon pulls images from movies as well. Perennial Children looks as if the figures
are in combat, while the are images on the wall play a calming passive roll. The figures
are often film still references, so each person feels somewhat in motion. I find this gives
each work more energy and helps to further increase the complex narrative.

When dealing with paint, especially the rectangles that normally conceal the figures, Bourbon
uses thick strokes, some in a kind of a hard-edge style, while other applications of paint are
thinner with ambiguous borders. His rectangle strips of color cover his figures to conceal their
identity. This makes it easier for the viewer to project a narrative into the painting. I am
reminded of John Baldessari prints of raw colors that conceal an object or person taken
from a film still. Bourbon’s composition, however, is all inclusive and there is no style shift
that distracts you. Also, Bourbon’s paintings are more complex, with a great deal more
elements collaged together, but done so thoughtfully that you almost forget his scene
is completely invented from various elements. It makes sense that Bourbon is more complex,
Baldessari was coming out of a tradition of stripping down and simplification during the
death throes of the Modernism-Post Modern era. Bourbon is showing an emergent
complexity, where the more you look at the image, the more you can draw from it.
I think another reason while Bourbon’s images are so meticulously composed is that he also writes
critically on art. Much like Donald Judd did, Bourbon wants to make sure his own theories are
expressed in his work, so he has to be conscious of every move he makes on the canvas. As a
professor at UNT he also has strong ideas on what works and I think he is probably as hard on
his own work as he is with his students. But he wants to see his work develope and grow along
with the greater art community and his students as well.
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Avis Frank Gallery space complemented Bourbon’s paintings well. Flat walls, brick walls, and
the segment rooms felt similarly collaged like a Bourbon painting, but still just plain worked.
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by Todd Camplin
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