Matt Story has worked for over twenty years from his studio in Los Angeles but in 2013 began traveling with his wife, and painting for extended periods in locations as diverse as Charleston, Santa Fe and New Orleans. He works from his studio in New York City now, often twelve or more hours a day and six or seven days a week. His method of oil painting on canvas and panel closely resembles the classical method, used for centuries by masters such as Titian and Caravaggio, two of Story’s heroes, fastidiously building up thin glazes, painting “fat over lean” with traditional materials. His work is included in private and corporate collections in the United States, Europe and Asia. To see more of Matt Story art go www. mattstory.com.
Matt, where do you find inspiration?
My inspiration has always been the Great Masters. I wanted my life to be related to that historical discourse of painting in some way and to further it in my own life. I remember standing at the Getty in front of one of Titian’s Penitent Magdalene’s, as a boy, and thinking nothing could be more worthy of a life than to learn to create even one thing as beautiful and moving as this. To strive to emulate the tremendous skill and virtuosity of past painters is hugely inspiring.
On a more specific level, I’m inspired by classical forms and putting them in modern settings, to depict extreme lighting conditions that are new to painting, and in some way to blur the line between photorealism and impressionism.
In regards to your outstanding underwater paintings – Why water? Does water have a specific meaning to you? How did that idea come up?
Water is an amazing metaphor for the deeper self. When I paint a woman suspended under water, I see her as gliding through her own self-awareness. Her movement is a journey through her own life, her self. Many of my images depict the body of water fading off behind and below the figure into a gradating darkness, into “the abyss.” Surely the depth or bottom of it is death. But she floats always peacefully toward the surface, toward the light and the air—not unaware of, or ignoring the dark, but enjoying the buoyancy of her life despite it. Each “diving down” is a foray into the deeper self, with its risks and fears, and each emergence is a re-birth, a cleansing, a baptism.
But water also has a fun playful side. We all share those memories of fun and relaxing summers at beaches and pools, immersed in joy. Our first sensations occurred to us while floating in a warm, nurturing maternal pool too, so the similes are complex.
And on a technical level, painting underwater scenes is a perfect setting for painting the classical, female form. As you know, the female nude a fundamental subject of figurative art and goes back at least as far as the “German Venus” of 35,000 years ago. And of course, censorship of the nude probably began the day after that! The Council at Trent didn’t even wait for Michelangelo’s death before having Venusti begin painting over the genitals on The Last Judgement figures. (Of course, he did it only under the threat that the frescoes would be destroyed otherwise). And as a young artist in the U.S., I quickly learned that my nude studies would never be casually exhibited in such a fundamentalist and stultified place. So, I pondered, how can I paint the figurative nude in a less-charged but natural setting? Viola! The scantily clad swimmer. Is it new? Yes! I can paint figures in exaggerated poses never painted before, because the postures would be so unnatural out of water (and my forebearers had none of my advantages of seeing underwater). My models take on a beautiful and unexpected fluidity when floating weightlessly.
Also, the lighting underwater is spectacular, chards of refractions, color distortions and prismatic effects. I’ve always been drawn to this “extreme lighting,” even in my cityscapes depicted at night in the rain, or landscapes in the snow near dark. Of course, extreme lighting was the coinage of Rembrandt and Caravaggio, though in more somber, almost dichromatic palettes. And they probably used mirrors to concentrate the sunlight and create extreme effects.
Finally, I love painting images that seem at once abstract and photorealistic. I get this in the underwater environment, the distortions, the prismatic colors and strange depths of field. As Lucien Freud said, “The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and ironically, the more real.”