Journal: Matthew Shelley: Thumbnail

Where are you from and where do you reside?

I’m from Oregon, but I moved to Washington DC for graduate school in 2008. Since finishing my MFA, I’ve lived in different cities around the Northeast. I just recently moved to Philadelphia from Brooklyn.

Your solo show A-Frame recently opened in Washington DC, which includes a set of your works exhibited in “A-Frames” standing on the floor. What was the inspiration behind this unique type of installation and how does it shape the way people to interpret your work?

I was using a series of shapes that kept recurring in my work. A lot of the perspectives and geometries that I use are architectural, and I started thinking in terms of specific angles and tent forms

At a certain point, I wanted to make those shapes more physical, so I made a structure to hold the images. I thought of the armature as a3D reflection of the spatial illusions that were happening in the collages. It ended up creating something cyclical, with one thing reflecting the other, over and over, until it was ultimately neutralized.

Your work combines stark lines and geometric shapes with softer photographs of nature. How would you describe your creative process?

Atmospheric perspective has so much to do with contrast. There are a lot of subtle values in the photographs that communicate depth. It makes the space feel very big, even though the object of the photograph is small, so I’m always looking for ways to interact with that. Sometimes I like to deactivate the space in a picture, and at other times I like to extend the fiction of it. I’d really like to figure out ways to ease the transition of those opposing ideas, or make the boundaries of 2D and 3D space feel more ambiguous.

What connection do you see between forms in nature and the forms present in your work?

I always think about the big spaces in these pictures being forced into the small space of a format and composition. That collision, of big space and small space, really fascinates me. It reminds me of trying to organize something that is impossible to organize, or trying to catalogue something that really resists it.

I always think about the big spaces in these pictures being forced into the small space of a format and composition. That collision, of big space and small space, really fascinates me.

Matthew Shelley

Are there themes or motifs that you are consistently drawn to?

It’s funny because I started using the landscape initially for its sense of neutrality. I liked using landscape because I didn’t feel pressure to load it up with any meaning. At that point, it was just a picture to use. My interests in it were mostly formal, with landscape as something to support that process. I didn’t feel I could use a picture of nothing, so the landscape was a distant subject that didn’t seem to force anything on the work as a whole.

But after a while I started thinking about it differently. Sometimes I think about it formally, or historically, or even in terms of narrative. In the past I used to deny it being about landscape at all, but now I guess it’s definitely about landscape. At least that’s what’s happening for the time being. I might try and find a way of working out of that at some point.

What necessities do you require when making your art (radio, specific paintbrushes)?

I keep a pretty organized studio. It’s frustrating to break to look for materials when you’re trying to focus, so I keep it pretty clean. For me the studio is a place of different routines, and I really like that. I have a tough time not getting frustrated and abandoning a piece halfway through, so those routines set up a kind of mechanism that ensures that I keep working through the problem and don’t bail out too soon.

The only sport that I follow is baseball, so during baseball season I listen to a lot of games in the studio. It’s good for me because it helps me not take the little failures too seriously, while maintaining a sense of overall purpose and direction. I listen to it casually, but I think it re-enforces that sense of ritual and routine that I like to have in the studio.