If it wasn’t for a friend who lives nowhere near me, I would never have known about a little art exhibition currently running at the Everyman Gallery here on Beech Road, Chorlton. In fact, it’s directly opposite my living room! Funny how you can continually walk past something interesting right on your own doorstep; as if proximity conceals, or makes less remarkable. In the Gallery, up-and-coming poet painter Harry Matthews was showing 9 or 10 oil paintings on canvasses full of light and explorations of colour – appropriately enough titled “The Art of the Invisible”, in a nod to Johnathan Swift.1 While we made the most of the complimentary wine, he also treated us to an impromptu reading of some of his poetry.
Matthews’ paintings deal with traditional Romantic themes of nature, transcendence, the hidden, and the sublime, some in beautiful shades of spring green and yellow, others in watery blues or lilacs. Bold impressionistic brushstrokes and thick layers combine here and there with childish animal or human figures cheekily sketched and concealed almost like little palimpsests among foliage or hills or waterfalls. A Christian God is also very much present, more obvious in some places than in others. For me, there was something reminiscent of John William Waterhouse in a few of the works and of course, the spirit of J.M.W. Turner.
Roses, water, visions, the ethereal. Matthews plays with styles and forms and with the relationships between the abstract and the more specific lines of subjective experience or interpretation. A boy? A girl? A wolf or a fox? A lake full of reflections or a hilly landscape? As the artist, who was sitting casually to one side (with only a faint whiff of opening night nervousness) told us more than once: “Everyone has been seeing something different. We see what we want to see”. In the gorgeous smoky clouds of Earth Dragon, Matthews, quoting Rainer Maria Rilke, suggests that “Only he who can expect anything, who does not exclude even the mysterious, will have a relationship with life greater than just being alive…Perhaps everything fearful is just helplessness that seeks our help“.2