Boston-based artist Matthew Rich’s large-scale paintings on paper at Devening Projects + Editions present a range of enticing contradictions. A few examples: Rich uses an X-acto type blade to cut lines that aren’t always super-straight, he hangs his unframed paintings directly on the wall so that their interaction with light, air, and passer-by movement emphasizes their sculptural qualities, and he uses latex paint to create planes of color so flat and even that, when seen from a distance, you might initially assume he’s cutting and collaging pieces of colored paper rather than painting them himself. Rich’s works appear crisply delineated. They look like whirligig motion machines that tweak their hard-edged forbears with torqued forms that are almost but not quite rectilinear and sometimes downright curvaceous. Titles like Tilt, Double Arc, Turbine, Rocker and Zig-Zag only heighten their playfully carnivalesque attractions.
Up close, however, things get more complicated. A lot of Rich’s paintings look like they’ve been manhandled a bit-they’re smudged and soiled and intentionally creased (the result of how they’re packed for shipment), and one even has a partial footprint on it. Sections of what appear from afar to be uniform color reveal inconsistencies in density and tone. Rich has also used iridescent paint in certain sections to activate additional layers of depth, movement and reflection.
The show is titled “Blind Spot,” a phrase that in this context is not purely metaphorical. As it turns out, there’s a flipside to these paintings that is, well, the flip side to these paintings. Rich has painted both sides of the paper using different colors. Working from preparatory drawings, he cuts from layered sheets of paper so that the pieces will lock back together again seamlessly, in this manner carefully assembling his paintings a section at a time. After he’s finished, Rich turns the whole thing over and exhibits the unseen, or “blind” side; in other words, the section that remained invisible to him while working becomes the public side of the artwork. The side he created with such meticulous attention must now keep its face to the wall; the rhythm of chance wins out over what were once, presumably, carefully considered chromatic relationships.
Once Rich’s paintings are hung, however, hints of their hidden selves inevitably peek around. The ever-so-subtle curl of a paper’s edge, or a slight pulling away from the wall here or there, casts almost imperceptible shadows of colored light against the white wall behind it. This exquisite little detail is all the more entrancing for how easy it is to miss. It’s yet another contradiction that these paintings pose, one that arises when bold, large-scale works such as these are apprehended with sweeping glances. I also think it’s a contradiction that’s nestled in the very different assumptions we sometimes bring to the act of looking at a painting vs. a drawing or a work on paper, especially when it comes to issues of scale. The cliche is that drawings require more intimate and “up close” scrutiny because they’re smaller and somehow more personal, while paintings of a larger scale ask you to stand back and take them all in. Rich’s paintings ask us to look both ways in order to maintain a wider field of view.