Page 1




an idea to find

an artist’s statement 1995

Begin to work rapidly, very nervously, straight on and with great excitement. Experimenting on the fly, often working in postcard size sketches. At this size a design develops promising and intriguing figurations. These sketches are enlarged and elaborated. Through development figurations are suppressed and related, multiplied and balanced. Repeated treatment of a design, to till it into a bumper crop of images. So one work contains a wealth of related images.

So the hints of figuration fuel cunning and expression. As da Vinci advised: ‘look at the stains on the wall, modeled rocks, and clouds in the sky for form and design elements.’ Composition with repeated slight adjustment. Latent images, like phantasms, present themselves.

But what about imagery? One figuration yielding another? There are new ways to get that. My focus is on the human in the new space-time understanding. That is the nonplanar: the nonregulation space of distortion and curve.

Cubism was the representation of one design subject several ways. My curves are the combination of designs added on one another and bringing forth a multitude of figurations, interrelating and cooperating in design—presenting in an instant a frozen moment of various times. Different scales, or similar scales, different focuses or similar focuses all at once.

It’s said that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. But with a different understanding of space and time objects share space within the same time. Shared space within the picture is the intersection and overlapping of designs. Creating designs that share components and then share space in a new design. What manner of design?


Multivalent design is the constant tension of ambiguity: the shift between or among the objects—the images—that occupy the same picture field.

A viewer comprehends an image at a time: but when the artist links various levels of figuration, looking at one figure leads the eye to reveal the others. In a moment the viewer’s organization of the design shifts. He has released the former way of understanding the picture for another path—like a valence change—a quantum shift in the picture’s subject.

What subject? The age-old drive: the capitation of humanity through artifact. The man-made / man-understood world of our own image. The figurative is my interest: the manipulation of the viewer’s expectations of design over an area. Through multivalence the imagery unfolds for the viewer, in a kind of static animation, a central obsession in all my abstract design.

For me the interest lies in the multivalence of the human figure. There is no end to the challenges of the figure—this plastic system with 20 digits, on 4 limbs (each divided into three segments), with 1 torso, 1 pelvis, 1 head, all twisting and bending, along with an endless supply of likenesses and expressions (and 2 sexes to boot). There are yet many worlds to discover, right here with us. Perhaps just as music often reminds one of emotions or personalities so can shapes, curves, knobs, and textures remind one of the human. All these can be assembled to demonstrate the figure, and yet remain non-realistic. Realism is a small segment of what is possible in art. Like choral music and drama, small portions of the art forms music and poetry respectively. Do not expect to see things too clearly—expect no words of the sonata.

Biomorphism provides us a language to exploit the figurative system without being realistic. Some of the greatest art is realistic, but realism limits its design to one focus. Realism is marvelous but not evocative. In realism any multiplicity in interpretation is either through the use of attribute, as in genre symbolism, or through surrealism or the absurd: no longer realistic.

But the oldest art is not realistic; neolithic and primitive art is biomorphic. Realism is not the norm in world art: for example Oceania, subsaharan Africa, or native Australian, or Eskimo —to name just a few. All these multicultural traditions work with the figurative concept and the human experience and condition, our immediate drive for self-representation: not its counterfeit.

Now combine the biomorphic with multivalence. Consolidate abstraction and abstract art design. Design becomes both biomorphic and multivalent. Multimorphic abstraction.

Where a single work of art is composed of elements from several images that share components, with images or fields that overlap or overlay. These are balanced and coordinated—conducted—so that certain designs are more evident. Now the artist decides pre-eminence among the various designs. This determines which image presents itself to the viewer first. Yet the viewer as he continues to look will organize further designs, and the relation of the depictions to one another, to comprehend the painting amid its entourage, the whole picture manifested in its gesture. Gesture, since graphic art is the silent moment containing all possibilities.

With the figure the artist discovers human images, concepts of self, passions of life. Powerful design converts any object or shape into an image of humanity—designed anthropomorphism. The human form is a limitless vocabulary. Its versatility of phrasing is limitless. Through it, design essays state problems and solve them. Questions which remain unaddressed in figurative art are prime for answers: solution and comprehension. The power of anthropomorphism is to fashion any object or shape into the image of man by design. In the designed addition or deletion of the elements associated with the figure a new design is realized: is satisfied.

To get the design purge from the work the unneeded—the illustrational, that thing which merely lends atmosphere. If it does not contribute to design— remove it. For me patterns like checkers, circles, meanders, or other geometric devices do the exact opposite: they reinforce the design.

In my art there is often a field of crisscrossing lines—these create “negative space,” a pictorial subspace guiding the eye with false perspective toward a design of depth, and relieving the pictorial tension with non-biomorphic elements that intensify the multimorphic design.

There is a new personal enjoyment when you combine designs that share their representation space. You don’t waste a good form’s potential—you expand upon it. Involve it in other forms. Make it essential in all the forms of the painting. A plastic congress of forms within a picture to define a particular human universe—the human blend of life.

Cubism was an early form of multivalence. So was surrealism. Multimorphic abstraction evolves traditional abstraction and surrealism to a more complex state. It demands careful craftsmanship, to create art works which stand the test of endless scrutiny and study.

And further evolution.

Wherever we go we seek humanity. In a crowd we seek friends. Among strangers we seek smiles. When lost in the wild we seek anybody, or the traces of an anybody. So in art we seek: and find humanity, the figurative.

For me man is an idea. I concentrate on this idea always. For an artist mankind is all. Our pictorial environment is merely for us to act with (or against), providing depth and setting. This obsession with the figure to the exclusion of all else! The image of mankind as the expression of design! But the passion for communication of this in painting and drawing led to the solution of multiple imagery.

Abstraction of humanity is my personal appreciation of human beauty, the beauty of woman, of man: in the expression of the body's volumes biomorphically and multivalently. This is its multimorphic abstraction: which is the exploitation of various times or phases or potentials in certain forms, with the introspective turned expansive. The creation of marvelous images of man that are enjoyable and fascinating.

My urge is to draw, to depict. Depiction of humanity is the obsession with me. The deepest joy I have is in the sight of the body. The constant change in shape intrigues my eye. As a child I once imagined a world where I could see through every thing but flesh. (Doesn’t sound very original!) My idea was not merely to see everyone nude but to see them walking above and about in invisible buildings. Sitting on invisible chairs at invisible desks, all strange and fantastic poses and postures. The body of flesh. Later body and flesh evolved into contour, curve, volume.

Painting is a pantomime. In my pictures you can interpret the performers to be potentially human, emerging into the human, reinforcing the human as a design figure. This cast is the entourage of the main figuration —the gesture. Like the familiars around a witch, they project the phantasm where they participate, and strengthen its seduction of us.

Pictures have personality— they are selfish or sharing. I like sharing painting— generous paintings. Paintings that are humane, works of art that show our humanity as the center subject.

The expression of mankind through abstract design. So in art we seek; and find humanity, the figurative. For me man is the idea to find.

art and statement text Matthew McDonnell artist’s statement design Andrew McDonnell

Copyright © 1995 by Matthew McDonnell Copyright © 2013 by Matthew McDonnell




Matthew McDonnell - An Idea to Find  
Matthew McDonnell - An Idea to Find