For his fifth solo exhibition at Anton Kern Gallery, Los Angeles-based artist Matthew Monahan will show a combination of new sculpture and drawings. His aggressive but elegant sculptural works, cast in different materials including foam and bronze, manipulate the figure to challenge what we associate with a classical representation of the human body.
Nine tall figurative metal sculptures and ten oil-on-paper drawings animate the space. Striving for a less fragmented and more unified form, the sculptures lay emphasis on the relationship between figure and base. Each pedestal is tailored for each piece, and the two registers, the upper and lower halves, accentuate the tension between metal and masonry.
All materials share one quality: they change appearance, properties, and color based on their mineral contents and their firing temperature. Monahan seems to emulate a proto scientific, or alchemist approach to his materials. In their pursuit of turning common metals into gold, the old alchemists developed the science of understanding, deconstructing, and reconstructing matter, and along the way discovered the process of plating and the transmutation of metals.
To Monahan, the choice of bronze comes as a plausible step after having worked with wax and different melting processes, as well as bending, molding, and casting in a variety of materials for many years. However, Monahan decreases the ‘nobility’ of bronze, he makes us feel the heat of the flame, the fire and violence of the furnace, the pummeling, hammering, and cracking sounds of the foundry. All the noise still reverberates in the sculptures. These material qualities can be extended to the psychology and symbolism of the work. Under the durable shell of metal hides the thinness, hollowness and fragility of the figure. The figures make themselves more durable and perhaps larger-than-life, in the ancient alchemist way, and - in their slight tendency towards architectural futurism and science fiction - the figures echo the creaking metal sounds of old monster movies or Ray Harryhausen’s metal giants.
The alchemy of the metal works extends to Monahan’s new oil on paper drawings. The paper is coated with two layers of paint, then folded and drawn on from the back with a fork, pressing through the line that depicts an off-kilter Vitruvian Man floating in a dark space. In fact, it is Monahan’s long practice as a draftsman, his obsession with the treatment of surface, and his interest in shared tonalities of disparate materials that have informed his approach to the metal surface and become the source for his bronze casting. Monahan has always used his drawings as foundations for sculpting by turning planar things into volume. Bronze is a skin; a skin that is first poured into sheets of wax, cast in metal, and then folded or shaped into the human figure.