Matthew’s work questions how the constructed urban environment affects how people interact with one another and with the natural environment. How do these places influence our interaction and relationships with others and how do they affect how we view and value nature? It is his hope that these paintings will raise questions about these issues and prompt a reconsidering of their effects on our quality of life.
Matthew uses the traditions of European representational oil painting to explore how the spaces we occupy affect the way we feel by depicting urban scenes of everyday modern life. The primary themes in Matthew’s work are alienation and isolation in large urban centres, which he has experienced in public and private spaces while living in Toronto, Ontario. The spaces and configurations of our residences, the transitory spaces we pass through daily and our increasingly limited contact with nature are of particular interest in these works.
A large city like Toronto can be both an exciting environment and an intimidating and lonely place to live. Much of the space in and around the city is devoted to travel and transition, where people exist between one place and another. These spaces among others foster effects of overstimulation caused namely by noise, light and an intense exposure to media both in private and public settings. In residential areas there can often be a strong sense of anonymity where people are densely packed into apartment buildings and row houses. The buildings are often enormous and built very close together, creating a feeling of anxiety and isolation despite there being so many people in one place.
While the places that Matthew paints are primarily urban the inclusion or exclusion of nature also plays a pivotal role. Space for nature is of less importance in large cities where the quantity and size of parks are reduced to maximize the space for more housing or other development. As a result of this we find ourselves constructing small, contained artificial spaces that act to imitate natural environments. A fascinating and somewhat disconcerting example of this is the ‘parkette’, the oddity between a park and patch of grass. As if to ensure our acknowledgement of these allocated spaces, the city gives them a name and a large sign. Nature has found its way into Matthew’s paintings in a similar strange way that it is constructed in urban spaces.