by Nirmala Nataraj
The collage-based work of Matt Gonzalez includes discarded paper products, ads, distressed packaging and other sources of inspiration that he finds floating about as he walks around San Francisco. These works are at the heart of a new exhibition of pieces at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery, titled “Derivé: Situationist Encounter in San Francisco.”
Gonzalez uses found pieces that are often distressed by the experiences of daily life. “I never buy paper to work with,” he says. “Sometimes a single shard of paper can fascinate me for its depth and unique distress, the result of passing cars, rain and foot traffic.”
The accidental effects of environmental influences make the pieces singular, as “you couldn’t make them look that way in the studio no matter how hard you tried.”
Although most collage is about “using existing figurative elements to create a new composition … I prefer nonobjective explorations,” he says. “Thematically, I would say I like making abstract sculpture on a picture plane that hangs vertically like a traditional painting.”
The result of Gonzalez’s meticulous collection of urban bric-a-brac is a series of works that implicitly reveal how geography, politics, consumption and the unique personality of a city gel.
“I think politics is implicit when you consider where these paper shards come from, what their original purpose was,” Gonzalez says. “Mostly, it was to package and sell products. I enjoy recasting the discarded to create a new aesthetic, fully aware that the viewer is oblivious to the paper’s original purpose.”
Gonzalez says he instinctively gravitates to wherever he finds the paper. He is also interested in variations in color and working within a single color palette. “I don’t think about it, but I follow the colors and papers I need, particularly when I reach corners and am confronted with a choice of which way to go.”
The pieces Gonzalez gathers can be wildly different, depending on where his walks take him. “There’s definitely more candy eaten South of Market than anywhere else,” he says. “Those packages are generally decorated with bright colors. I can easily tell which neighborhoods the Department of Public Works is more active in. There are also a ton of cigarette cartons South of Market and a lot of beer consumed in the Haight, as you might expect.”
Gonzalez’s work is influenced by that of the Situationists, particularly in their love of geography and integrating the “accidental” into their art. “They loved taking walks just as I do,” he says. “Their walks were really drifts (derivés), meaning they loved exploring urban settings by playing games, like following a certain color or trying to use a map of one city in another one. … This self-imposed disorientation created a new experience for them.”
Although his final works are nonobjective, they suggest a city landscape. Wandering as a process of art making can also be fun. “Often I encounter friends or even meet new ones, selling things on the sidewalk, or I wander into cafes. It’s all very organic,” says Gonzalez.