by Mark Van Proyen
During the past 13 years, Matt Gonzalez has been making and exhibiting collage works, all more or less abstract, and almost all executed at an intimate scale. In classic Kurt Schwitters Merz Picture fashion, Gonzalez recovers and repurposes street detritus as the raw material for two-dimensional organization. But the works that emerge from his process are very different from those that Schwitters produced almost a century ago. They are also very different from the surrealist-inspired works of the Beatnik artists who were so influential in the history of Northern California art. If anything, the more purposeful formalism of Gonzalez’s work bespeaks a closer alignment with the cubist and futurist collage practices that reach back more than a century. But all of these comparisons fade when we consider the fact that Gonzalez is using very different kinds of printed paper than what was available at any of those earlier historical junctures. His palette is formed by the bright and reflective colors made possible by digital offset printing, a fact that points to a different kind of archeological recovery.
Derivations in Color is the apt title of the exhibition under consideration here. It contains 26 works, 23 of which could be called monochromatic. Only one of them exceeds 30 inches in any dimension, and a few of them are as small as 10 by 8 inches. The process by which they come into being runs something like this: Gonzalez harvests paper fragments from the mean streets of San Francisco, and then separates his catch into groupings of closely related colors. Very little of the recovered paper that he uses reveals any visible indication of exposure to the elements, meaning that the colors still look clean and unblemished. Then, like playing a game of pick-up sticks in reverse, he carefully affixes the paper fragments into intricately layered configurations.
Two of the works on view — And hollered the ash-chanty and On the seams, afforested considerations — sport reflective quasi-metallic surfaces that appear to be formulated out of thin strips of mylar. Another work, The words that ascended summer, is made of differently textured cardboard with no chromatic attributes save those emanating from the subtle fluctuations of the brown-grays of the differing card stocks. Some of these works veer in the direction of being predominantly white, light gray or black, but most of the others reveal themselves as vibrating surfaces of closely placed primary or secondary hues. For example, in the stunning almost iridescent magenta in Language, blooms as nowhere else, the vibrating effects are a function of placing different colors of close tonal value in close proximity to form a visual equivalent of a sonic chord. This creates an effect similar to the optical mixtures of hue and chroma in Impressionist paintings, only in Gonzalez’ works, small fragments of cut paper stand in for alla prima brush strokes.
These materials are precisely cut into tiny shapes, and then placed into intricate lattice structures that support three or four layers of overlapping paper fragments, all tightly glued down with no evidence of adhesive spillage. Usually, the lattices make the works look as if they are themes and variations built on the idea of a web of associations, but in a few instances, the grids are torqued into subtly oblique angles that converge or diverge in complex ways. This insures that the works will surprise and fascinate those viewers who take the time to look closely at them.
Three other works employ a polychromatic approach. Like the monochromatic pieces, these also use torqued grids for visual organization, only here they proscribe compositional compartments that contain variations on collage themes. In these we see the emergence of recognizable iconography, juxtaposed and given new decontextualized meaning through onslaughts of bright Pop Artish forms and colors. For example, in Speak-Voyager (homage to Hart Crane, poet), we get hints of familiar art historical personages such as Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella, represented by fragmented reproductions of some of their well-known works. These are brought into the mix as if Gonzalez were a DJ fashioning a dance medley in visual form, giving new life to familiar tunes. Set against these familiar echoes we also see fragments of unfamiliar package design of the kind that seems extracted from a distant land, placed in a way that makes the familiar seem exotic.