Matthew Couper’s practice over the past decade has appropriated aspects of western art history. Through these painterly investigations, he has discovered that history often repeats. He has determined that the Modernist notions of originality held little interest for his practice. Couper uses the established narrative traditions of Spanish Colonial retablos and ex-votos to discuss the space between myth, religion and art politics.
His work has recently returned to a more gestural figuration, reminiscent of large paintings early in his career.
“Recently, my work has been focused on water issues, albeit very symbolically. That is, using historical forms to talk about present issues. We live in the desert and of course water and usage is a big issue, yet it seems that water shortage is spreading across the globe as there are many record droughts in effect at present. I guess the bigger picture is about contemporary survival, again because we live in such a harsh environment. When you see it everyday, it really hits home. The most recent body of paintings are looking more inward at the phenomenon of Social Isolation in a time where the world population is at its highest ever. It’s really about how we live, or don’t live in relation to other people and how we often live in a false sense of security, not really ready for slight shifts in the environment or other chaotic factors in society. Visually, I’ve started off with the term ‘desert island’ to tie where I live now in the Mojave Desert with where I come from in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The literal reading of the term circles back to the idea of survival and there’s activity taking place – wooden constructions haphazardly coming together, ropes binding structures and organic forms used as supports. There are only hints of human presence such as pipes.” Matthew Couper, 2020
A recent conversation between Matthew Couper and arts writer Marcus Civin covers the ideas behind and making of his Isolation Paintings.