Figure and void: Francis Matthews
The Molesworth Gallery is delighted to present its third solo exhibition of the work of Francis Matthews. In this new series of paintings, followers of the artist will recognise the familiar subject matter of urban architecture: details of streets and buildings that might go unnoticed or cursorily be considered unsightly by the passerby, unworthy of representation due to a drab or discordant appearance. For Matthews, however, these mundane elements of the urban landscape are ripe with possibilities, energized by the sophisticated interplay of light and shadow, of figure and void.
This body of work contains a number of street studies in chiaroscuro, a painting technique beloved of the old masters, using shadow and a single light source to create depth and drama. These restrained and masterful paintings conjure a different atmosphere to works by the artist where the reconciliation of different, often dissonant sources of artificial illumination is the leitmotif. They are quieter, more introspective works, highlighting a single detail - a tree branch or a lamppost. There is a Vermeer-like perfection to the surfaces and the adroit handling of light and shade.
The shortening days that augur the onset of autumn conjure feelings around the ephemeral nature of existence. For Matthews though, they must surely herald the season of possibilities. The streets empty as people retreat indoors, accentuating the sheen of recent rain on the city pavements and the skeletal branches of defoliated trees. The deserted streets and abandoned alleyways of his work always seemed to presage an apocalyptic event that had purged the city of its inhabitants. How prescient they now feel in these pandemic times.
In a way, the viewer is cast as the only inhabitant of the scene, a feeling achieved through the careful organisation of viewpoints and framing. These exquisitely-detailed works constitute a love letter of sorts to the city at night and a profound reflection on representing emotional states through physical settings. The poetic evocation of neglected spaces or moments of silence in otherwise inhabited locations urge us, the viewer, to carpe noctem.
Francis Matthews graduated with a first-class a honours degree in architecture from UCD before pursuing a career as an artist. He has won multiple awards at the RHA Annual, including the Hennessy Craig Scholarship.