The Big Picture: Matthew Carver

Matthew Carver is a trans-globalist. Over the last decade the Canadian painter has lived in and travelled to Berlin, London, Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and, most recently, Winnipeg, where he taught at the University of Manitoba. In the course of his travels, he has developed a general interest in Asia and a specific fascination with the painting tradition emerging in Manila. Carver notes that the Philippines is a culture hybridized not by choice but by the residue of overlapping colonizations. “I’ve asked myself what is it about this place and these artists that attracts me, and I think they are really at the centre of this East/West intersection.” He recognizes the influence of the Spanish occupation as well as a pop influence coming from America and Japan, and he admits that an artist friend “who knew more about the graffiti artists in my Berlin neighbourhood than I did” is the norm and not the exception. “They eat up Juxtapoz magazine and they are so much more aware of what’s going on here than we are aware of what’s going on there.”

“Prajogo’s virtual surroundings”, 2013, acrylic on canvas

Carver is now working on a series of paintings that comments on the divide and the connections between his East and West. They have a brightly-lit dystopic cast about them, fed as they are by his admiration for Super Sad True Love Story (Random House, 2010), the novel by Gary Shteyngart about a declining, iPhone-doped, shopped-out America, a former empire crumbling in the shadow of an economically rampant China. Eunice and I found a big hit of tangerine porn looted from the living room, 2013, takes part of its name from Eunice, a character in the novel, and part of its look from some judicious riffing on the interiors of painters like Nigel Cooke, Dexter Dalwood and even Richard Hamilton. This improbable domestic space is equally a product of Carver’s rummaging around in the modernist Architecture Library at the University of Manitoba, and in fashion and design magazines. In another large acrylic, called Prajogo’s virtual surroundings, 2013, he decorates a vast living room with an image of Mao taken from the Forbidden City near Tiananmen Square; a political poster illegally purchased from the backside of a market in Beijing; and a pair of portraits whose subjects have been rendered unseeing and unseeable by swaths of paint covering their eyes. They represent an emblem of the new global economy; they see no evil but they are an inescapable presence in the room. “Modernism has become a language of commodity for the type of collector who would live in these fictional elitist private spaces,” Carver says. “They could be powerful politicians in Southeast Asia, or nouveau riche in Shanghai or North America. They become anonymous because they’re not identified as being in a specific area of the world.” These anonymes surround themselves with objects that speak through a visual code, so that a sofa could be as loaded as a poster from the Cultural Revolution. They occupy the same space. To address that harmony, Carver had only to make a simple adjustment in Prajogo’s gallery room. “I switched the red communist colour to a blue capitalist colour. That’s as subtle as I have to make it.” Matthew Carver is moving to the Kitchener/Waterloo area where he will paint a number of new works in this series for an exhibition next year at the Nanjing Museum in Jiangsu Province.