Following in the Footsteps of Impressionists
29th November - 23rd December 2017
What does it mean to paint in the Impressionist style today? What incentive lies in the act of repainting some of the most renowned scenes in Western visual history? The artist who does so risks a hefty comparison to the titans of the era, ever mindful of the mammoth shadow cast by names like Monet, Renoir, Degas or Pissarro. The work must also ring clear with intention and novelty, in order to be distanced from the pigeonhole of pastiche. Matthew Alexander's latest paintings both consider and emulate the Impressionists, deploying the style and famous locations of the period to communicate the artist's own relationship to the movement itself and the medium of paint.
Matthew Alexander's upbringing imparted a natural interest in painting and the country of France; he frequently accompanied his father Chris Alexander (noted artist and lecturer) on French painting trips, where he was exposed to the mechanics and process of sketching and executing landscapes. Matthew has reflected on his initial gravitation toward the Impressionists, noting their ability to 'add magic to mundane scenes', and the softness with which their harmonious palettes were applied, conveying the pleasantness of French weather. Interestingly, Alexander's admiration for the Impressionists was not always automatic.
At the age of fifteen, I told my father I didn't like the Impressionists. He assured me I would.. and of course the belligerence of youth gave way to the enlightenment of age. While on my first trip to Paris in my early twenties I experienced the work of Alfred Sisley and was mesmerized. I could feel a lump in my throat and a tear welling in my eye. Why, how? I was confused. I knew, and had experienced these feelings while listening to certain composers of romantic classical music but had never expected to be moved in such a way by a painting. Sisley's 'Le Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes' was a simple autumnal view of a road sloping gently downhill and disappearing into the distance. The whole painting was suffused in a delicate light of dreamlike calm. I have come to understand that occasionally in a painting an artist can achieve near perfection, when everything is just right. The whole really has become greater than the sum of its parts and the work does convincingly achieve, as Walter Prater once described, 'the condition of music'.
In stark contrast to soft sunlit fields, Alexander's home surroundings were the moody Margate coast. In developing his own style, the artist felt it most natural to paint with vigorous strokes and muted palettes, matching the dramatic weather of the English beaches. A primary focus for Matthew thus became the effect of light on water, which strongly informs and defines his technical ability and colour sense. When taking on Impressionist subject matter, the artist delights in the challenge of adjusting his method to produce more subtle, carefully coloured landscapes.
The artist approaches the locations made famous by the Impressionists with a certain sense of duty. He has mentioned the exhilarating sensation of revisiting such iconic views about France, having stated, 'It is difficult to convey the excitement I felt when painting in the exact spot where Sisley had set his easel- I had to pinch myself to realise the magic of the situation!'
With this in mind, Alexander understands the sheer weight of the association attached to the visual, and thus strives to do the scene justice while making it distinctively his own. The exercise is founded in consideration of the Impressionist movement itself, its characteristic en plain eir style, and the formal qualities required to create a resonance for the viewer. Alexander has iterated his goal as 'following in the footsteps of the Impressionists, trying to find subjects that they had painted and then paint my own interpretations of these well-known subjects to see how they may have altered and changed over the years.' A far cry from mere mimicry, Alexander's engagement with the Impressionist legacy results in a stunning and incredibly modern landscape.
Taken to views around Britain, this method of painting lifts and softens an otherwise sombre view of say, a marsh in Suffolk or meadow by the Thames. Departing from the seriousness of Seago, Alexander depicts a less grave and more romantic viewpoint from which to absorb the natural scenes of England. Whether set in this country or abroad, the landscapes of Matthew Alexander never fail to delight and amaze. Rooted in French legacy and seen through with fresh, contemporary vision, Alexander's paintings deliver a new and enticing sort of Impression.
Thompson's Gallery are honoured to be hosting Matthew Alexander's latest solo exhibition and look forward to welcoming you to the show.