Walking into a room full of Matthew Chambers’s paintings, it is easy to feel that you haven’t really been living. Hung side by side around the perimeter of Untitled gallery with just two inches between them—each canvas measuring 8 by 4 feet (the size of a standard sheet of drywall)—the 36 paintings (all 2010) conveyed an enthusiasm and wonderfully sloppy immediacy that suddenly seemed to be lacking in other areas of life. Some are representational and others abstract; many of the abstract works are composed entirely of torn, colorful strips of painted or raw canvas.
Chambers, who was born in 1982 and lives in L.A., lifts his subjects from pop culture, movies or art history, and seems to choose them solely on the basis of their emotional appeal. Arousing the Sense of Pathos is a straightforward and straight-on depiction of a teddy bear that could be the cousin of a Jeff Koons puppy or bunny. But the work’s unlovely aspects—the awkward format, the student-y modeling of forms—hint that Chambers is equally indebted to earlier “bad” painters like Neil Jenney and Charles Garabedian.
Chambers paints with gusto and seems to feel no need to demonstrate proficiency. What are usually considered flaws of craftsmanship he indulges in with abandon. Stretchers warp. Threads trail from the canvas. Stapling is abysmal. Seams from the drop cloths used as canvas extend across the surfaces. What Chambers has to say is too urgent, his passion too great, for him to get caught up in the niceties of facture. And roughness is part of the appeal.
The drawings are more conventionally beautiful and skilled in execution. Included in the exhibition and left open for browsing were two weighty, hand-bound books of drawings, about 30 by 22 inches each, with rough plywood spines and covers. One contained abstractions, mostly in pastel, and the other representational studies, mainly in pencil. Among the latter it was often easy to connect a drawing with a corresponding painting.
An unmistakable undercurrent of homoeroticism ran throughout the exhibition, most clearly evidenced in Of Sunless Dry, depicting a nude man being toweled off by another man in boxer shorts. The study drawing for this work reveals that the nude man’s pose is based on the reclining figure of Adam from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. One of the Effects of Analogy shows a man from the neck to the thighs, lifting up his black tank top to display slab-like pecs and a big bulge in his black briefs. Next to this was a full-length portrait of a pouty cowboy, while in another canvas a cartoonish blond man in chartreuse running shorts jumps theatrically through the air. Chambers is a kind of entertainer, although he seems too excited about his own project to worry much about the audience. For the most part, his enthusiasm is infectious.
Photo: Matthew Chambers: One of the Effects of Analogy, 2010, oil on canvas, 96 by 48 inches; at Untitled.