Artist discusses merits of multimedia works
As they walked into a tucked-away classroom in Goldman-Schwartz on Wednesday, students could have been forgiven for needing a moment to blink and double-take. Two separate projectors showed vibrant abstract animations onto two different walls, each one beautifully painted and wholly unique. Smiling patiently between the projections sat Matt Saunders, a leading painter, animator and photographer who spoke about his influences and unusual path as an artist in a guest lecture.
The two-projector setup was a deliberate choice on Saunders’ part to recreate an aspect of his recent gallery works. “I do a lot of these animations that are multi-screen and often multi-directional and never feel like they do anything on the single screen,” he said. While preparing for a recent show in Tokyo, Saunders walked into the room where his work would be shown and saw a massive window that would be impossible to cover up. His solution? Make a three-screen work “in which the third screen was the window.” He tried to make that work “very pointedly unfold over the course of the day as a sort of 24-hour cycle for this video.” Museum-goers thus got different experiences at different times of the day, depending on the natural light streaming through the space.
Saunders’ attention to the full sensory experience of his work also appears in his non-animated work. He experiments with many different materials in his paintings, including photo paper. He got his start in abstract painting, working “very earnestly” in New York City’s East Village neighborhood. A cinephile, Saunders started renting films by famous artists who also came from the East Village, including Andy Warhol. He was captivated by a Warhol scene where actor Joe Dallesandro stands in a bathtub and shaves while looking into a mirror. “You see every muscle in his body relax as he enters this private space between the mirror and this familiar activity,” Saunders explained. He took snapshots of the individual frames of the scene then began painting those snapshots, growing gradually more stylized as he went. “The thing that came out of the work was this frustration with a moving object,” he said.
At around the same time, Saunders began feeling “claustrophobic” about the restraints imposed by drawing, particularly the materials required. “It wasn’t better; it was more controlled.” Combining this fascination with film and his frustrations with drawing, Saunders resolved to draw each individual frame of the opening 10 seconds of a film, in which an actor simply sits in a car. Originally, Saunders planned to just display the hundreds of drawings together on a wall. When he saw it, however, he found it “so boring” that he decided instead to put his frames together and “reassemble the animation.” Thus, he got his start in animation.
Saunders displayed a range of works across both projectors. One animation depicted people riding bicycles but flip-flopped each frame between showing them in the negative or positive space. Others presented colorful, abstract shapes and swirls, where one could see each meticulous brush-stroke for each individual frame. From more minimalist drawings to exquisite paintings, Saunders demonstrated the wide range of an artist constantly pushing himself into new territory. “I’m always trying to turn things over, to challenge myself in some way to not be able to do a thing, and of course you quickly figure out how to do it,” he said.