Atlas of a Difficult World
Shadows and Portraits at UNM's Jonson Gallery
For better or worse, excellent art is often born out of disaster. Matthew Lutz's grandfather died following a brutal battle with lung and brain cancer, and observing this struggle had a deep effect on Lutz. Later, when he entered the MFA program at UNM to study visual art, he taught an undergraduate who fought a similar battle against metastasized breast cancer. Her fight inspired Lutz to complete his master's degree even after he personally suffered a life-altering spinal cord injury.
This series of unfortunate events led Lutz to make the decision to donate all proceeds from a year's worth of his artwork to cancer foundations. The Shadows half of his current MFA thesis show at UNM's Jonson Gallery is the result of this project.
Despite the traumatic inspiration behind this show, Shadows consists of work that's surprisingly serene. Based on the dappled patterns created by sunlight filtering through the leaves and limbs of trees, most of these oil on canvas paintings have an ethereal, calming quality. Together, they offer a powerful examination of the fragility of life and memory.
A trio of large-scale paintings in the same room almost looks like a series of underwater scenes. The bright blue bifurcated "Redeemer," in particular, looks like it was painted under the surface of a swimming pool. It contains two dark slits that look something like handles on a sliding glass door opening into this watery underworld. Facing each other across the room, "Borealis in June," an orange construction with a small superimposed rectangular element, and the simple reddish "Summer's Autumn" seem to present alternate depictions of the same pure solitary place.
All of the work in this half of the show offers a sense of both transience and movement. Some of these paintings almost look like video screens. I wanted to press the play button to set the things in motion.
The other half of Lutz' show, Portraits, addresses similar themes from utterly different angles. Six of the seven paintings in this half are named after people, although most don't appear to be portraits in any conventional sense. All of these paintings have an antique quality. Most include inset boxes filled with words and containing little knickknacks presented like mementos from lost friends or lovers.
In "George," for example, Lutz depicts a woman in a white scarf and vintage clothing. She's surrounded by gibberish script, three leaping elk and a series of white marks resembling cigarette burns. The inset box contains an instrument that looks something like metal forceps. Lavender art nouveau swirls ornament the outer border of the image.
Just staring at this beautiful mysterious thing, with its masculine name and feminine visage, you have no concept of what these different elements represent, yet the combination feels personal. That's partly why these pieces are so attractive. They're infused with a private meaning that you can feel even if you can't rationally comprehend what the various aspects signify.
One of my favorite pieces in this half of the show is "Micah (180º)." Painted on a long panel with an edge of wide notches, this piece depicts a panorama with two sets of converging train tracks. Like much of Lutz' work in this show, "Micah (180º)" presents a peaceful scene, yet it's somewhat alarming to note that if two trains rolled down these tracks they would collide right at the point where the viewer stands.
A painting titled "Cell No. 1," which is grouped with Portraits, serves as a kind of bridge between the two halves. Composed of abstract purple, black, red and yellow blotches, the image looks like a fading memory in the final moments before it slips into oblivion.
In the end, both Shadows and Portraits are varied aesthetic depictions of the human drive to clasp on to life and memory. As such, this show doesn't suffer from the easy cynicism and bleakness contaminating so much contemporary art. The inspiration behind this show might be disease, injury and death, but Lutz leaves the viewer with strength, hope and an affirmation of the noble human qualities required to survive in a difficult world.
'Shadows' Is About Perseverance
By Wesley Pulkka
There are two interesting shows at the Jonson Gallery. Bicyclist and painter Matthew Lutz had to give up riding after suffering a ruptured disc in his spine. His master of fine arts exhibition titled "Shadows" celebrates his recovery and those who inspired him to persevere.
Because of the death of Lutz's grandfather from cancer and the struggles of one his students who suffered from breast cancer, Lutz is donating the proceeds from his show to a number of cancer and other health-based institutions.
His paintings, however, have nothing to do with illness or death. But his decision to dedicate his show to cancer and other health-related research is very timely.
Professional bicyclist Lance Armstrong retired recently following his seventh victory in the Tour de France bicycle race. All seven of Armstrong's victories came after he had been diagnosed with cancer. His doctors expected him to die of the disease but Armstrong turned his illness into seven victories.
Lutz's paintings are based on memories of his own cycling days. They are filled with dappled light and dreamlike muted colors that are characteristic of the meditative state reached during long periods of constant exercise.
In "Summer's Autumn" Lutz turns twilight shadows into a lyrical abstraction that still can be read as a realistic landscape. The warm palette and horizontal composition create a muted image of movement along a sun dappled path. The misty out-of-focus quality adds to the quiet mood and the altered vision of a lone rider.
"Redeemer" by Lutz has the quality of light reflected in water. There are mysterious elements like two vertical dark elongated ovals and an apparently overlapping layer that turn the painting toward abstraction. The nocturnal blues may be caused by moonlight passing through branches on a country road but the overlapping layer and floating dark ovals elude explanation.
In "Strip Mine" Lutz comments on the destruction caused by large-scale mines. "Strip Mine," despite its 3-by-4-foot scale also could be seen as an extreme close-up of human flesh. I like the way that Lutz leaves these more esoteric connections up to the viewer.
In "Borealis in June" Lutz returns to a more literal landscape format with puddles of sunlight on a horizontal surface. This solid collection is accompanied by a "Portraits" installation by Lutz. The figurative works based on fragmented photographic images are not part of his "Shadows" MFA show and are not part of this review.
Overall Lutz's paintings are well-conceived and skillfully executed.
Raymond Jonson was a modernist visionary who broke new ground throughout his career. His "Critical Reflections" show includes comments and responses to his work by critics and fellow artists. Jonson came to New Mexico during the 1920s after a stellar career in stage lighting, graphic arts and theater set design.
What always amazes me about Jonson's work is the freshness and just-taken-from-the-easel look of his work that spans the past 100 years. His attention to craftsmanship and commitment to the best available materials made his work last physically. His open-minded approach to each project and positive attitude toward the spiritual aspect of art gave him insights that are being constantly rediscovered.
In "Chromatic Contrasts No. 10" Jonson shaded the edges of several curved lines. The shading gave the resulting shapes a three-dimensional look— as if they were cuts in the surface of the paper. I was reminded of works by contemporary artist Paul Ré, who creates similar illusions and also cuts into the paper to make three-dimensional reliefs from curved line drawings.
Jonson's work was done in 1943. Ré has been doing this for a couple of decades. I couldn't relocate an image that I recall seeing from the 1920s with a similar motif but it's out there.
Young contemporary artists shouldn't delude themselves into thinking that they are the first, best or smartest. Unless they avoid libraries and museums they will eventually discover that their latest and greatest innovation was done by their metaphorical great-grandfather.
Kenny Price has been doing biomorphic sculptural blobs with speckled finishes for a number of years now. I wonder if he ever saw Jonson's "Polymer No. 12, 1960" that a New York critic called "out of fashion" 45 years ago. Jonson's biomorphic shapes are covered in bright speckled colors.
We can all participate in Harold Rosenberg's "Tradition of the New" as the beat goes on. These are good shows.
Copyright 2005 Albuquerque Journal
Artist Uses Masters Thesis To Explore the Shadows and Light of Hard Situations
By Rozanna M. Martinez
"Shadows," a collection of oil works by Lutz created over a period of nine months, will be available for suggested donations through Aug. 19 at Jonson Gallery at the University of New Mexico Art Museum.
Donations are to be made directly to the following cancer organizations: American Cancer Society, Casa Esperanza, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, People Living Through Cancer, Ronald McDonald House Charities or The Central New Mexico Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
"I investigated these organizations and feel comfortable donating my work to these organizations, especially the Ronald McDonald House and Casa Esparanza," Lutz said. "They provide a great place for (cancer patients and their families) to stay."
Lutz decided donate his pieces in honor of his late grandfather, who lost his battle to brain and lung cancer, and a former student of his diagnosed with breast cancer. His grandfather and his student served as Lutz's motivation to overcome his own personal tragedy.
In March 2002, Lutz, who was a competitive road and mountain biker, ruptured a disk in his lower back, leaving him without sensation and function in the major muscle groups starting at the end of his spine, down the back of his legs to the bottom of his feet.
Some of his internal organs were also affected.
"I'm just happy I can work," Lutz said. "I'm glad I can teach. For the first couple of years, there were a lot of things as a human I didn't have control over, and there were embarrassing situations. Now, I feel comfortable in a classroom."
Lutz is an art teacher at Rio Rancho High School and taught at the University of New Mexico, where he encountered the student with breast cancer.
Lutz has regained his ability to walk but still suffers from pain because of damage to his nervous system.
"The idea of doing this project came from having a particular student in my class and watching her suffer through the semester," Lutz said. "The thing that was inspiring to me was seeing her walking to class, then her having to use a cane, and then having to use a scooter."
Lutz said he admired her for her determination to continue to pursue her degree despite physical pain and limited mobility.
Works featured in "Shadows" were also done as an outlet for Lutz's condition.
"I got tired of talking about it, and emotionally I found myself going down," Lutz said. "My physical situation served as horrible background noise in my life for a period of time."
Lutz began to use oils to reflect how he was feeling at the time.
An example of this is "June 1st and 2nd," a dreary piece with deep scarlet reds against a dark background that fades into nothingness.
"I chose colors based upon what I was feeling at the time," Lutz said. "They are not truly monochromatic but have that appearance to them. The color unity (brings) peace and creates a painting that's a little bit quieter."
"Shadows" lightens up with soft pink hues in "Pink, No. 1" and a bold mixture of bright and deep blues intertwined with luminescent whites in "Redeemer."
In these pieces, Lutz said he intentionally made a shift in his art by reversing negative and positive space focusing on the light rather than the shadows of the image.
The works reflect Lutz's dealing with his own shadows and looking at the light remaining, he said.
Copyright 2005 Albuquerque Journal
Copyright © 2013 Matthew Lutz