Matt Saunders, The Distances (Hertha), 2023
Matt Saunders: The Distances
Jul 1 – Aug 12, 2023
Blum & Poe
Los Angeles, USA

Blum & Poe is pleased to present The Distances, American artist Matt Saunders’s fourth solo exhibition with the gallery and his first in Los Angeles since 2014.

Exploring the open border between painting and photography, The Distances sees Saunders delving further into his ongoing study of liminal spaces in the dividing lines that dictate visual art’s medium specificities. In pointing to the limitations of these categorical barriers, the artist engages with other observed dichotomies – proximity versus distance, immediacy versus mediation, or gaze versus counter gaze. Painterly gestures atop the photographic surface evoke touch and contact while vacillating between convergence and divergence with the image below.

Oil paint has long been behind Saunders’s photographic process. It now takes the forefront. Each of Saunders’s works for The Distances begins with an oil painting on thin chiffon. Configured as a negative, wherein white is black and colors are inverted, these stretched paintings are taken into a darkroom and used to strain light onto photosensitive paper to make each photographic image. The resulting prints are brought back into the studio where paint is thoughtfully applied to their surface, thus the image comes together from both sides of the photo’s process. The Distances (Joe) (2022) shows well the steps behind its making. Vibrant aqua interventions press forward on the picture plane, partially obscuring an expressive, almost photo-realistic face.

At each stage of his practice, Saunders activates an encounter between the image and the material that captures it. This chain of transference is not separate from the meaning of the work, which calls up themes of overlap, transformation, and the fluidity of constructed social categories such as gender. Humanizing these exchanges, the eyes of Saunders’s emotive subjects gaze upon the viewer as they are also gazed upon, almost daring equal and opposite perception. The artist created the bulk of these works in the solitude of the pandemic when the interpersonal seemingly became a lost art. In dialogue with his teaching, Saunders reflected on the performative and fluid versions of gender experienced by each generation; thus, the subjects in The Distances return to many of the foundational muses who he painted early on in his career. With this revisitation, he creates a channel through to his early work—marking his own stylistic transitions from early to midcareer.

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