Creating Difficulties:
Matthew Farina’s Nearing Paradise

An essay by Alexandra Fowle

OK Corot , 2019, Oil on canvas, 52 × 60 inches

OK Corot, 2019, Oil on canvas, 52 × 60 inches

I. Abstraction as a Language for Difficult Translations: As Seen Through Philosophy, Literature, and Emerging Modes of Thought

The “creator of difficulties” might thus be seen as a [...] metaphor for the artist, whose task is to constantly renew the acts of looking and seeing—to make a raid on predictability, disrupt perceptual complacencies, and translate, through art, personal truth into universal truth. [1]

-Michael Bracewell

The sum of one’s life is composed of actions and reactions indicating a desperate search for a [however unattainable] utopian ideal, and it’s possible for an artist to communicate, through painting, the tug-of-war relationship that presents itself when one is in search for internal and external “utopia.” This sense of utopia is perhaps defined as our reach to achieve our ideal selves (self-actualization), which, in more contemporary syntax, is summed up as one’s ability to live their “best life” as their “best selves.” As in painting, this is not achieved by taking shots in the dark, but through deliberate, calculated moves. Point and shoot. 

Nearing Paradise , 2019, Oil on canvas, 20 × 24 inches

Nearing Paradise, 2019, Oil on canvas, 20 × 24 inches

If the action is the act of painting and the thought is the painting’s finished topography, then it is possible to look at abstraction through a historical philosophical lens, such as William James’s Pragmatism. For James, the individualized ideal was achieved by practicing a philosophy for which he coined and codified; though, according to Barbara Novak, Pragmatism was put into practice by artists long before James published it in The Varieties of Religious Experience, originally in 1902.[2] Pragmatism—which focused on personal, immediate experiences to determine “concrete” results (however changeable in their nature)—served as a philosophical methodology for individuals looking to formulate their own individuality by carving out a belief system that was entirely rooted in one’s actions and the outcome of those actions. According to James:

Only when our thought about a subject has found its rest in belief can our action on the subject firmly and safely begin. Beliefs, in short, are rules for action; and the whole function of thinking is but one step in the production of active habits. To develop a thought’s meaning we need therefore only determine what conduct it is fitted to produce [. . .].[3]

Considering the magic of painting as a medium for communicating such abstract, often indescribable states of mind, painters must work to almost codify a new language of abstraction in the likes of all notable American abstractionists who emerged in the 1940s–50s—one that works individually for the artist. These languages are what preserve the legacies of generations of Abstract-Expressionist painters and why this form of painting persists as a coveted mode for painters and patrons today. 

In Nearing Paradise, Matthew Farina reminds us why we still attend to abstract painting, and why it is important to invest our time and energy in seeing. Here, abstraction continues to offer meditative experiences that connect humankind together on the grounds that traditional language often fails as a medium for communicating and understanding more universal human experiences, and so we must turn to something closer to nature: the arts. However, for Farina, nature is a large part of his approach to painting; he seamlessly melds 19th-century poetry and philosophy with 20th– and 21st–century lyrical abstraction in his work that demonstrates his dedication to painting, color theory, and nature.

II. Nature and Painting as an Extension of Nature [of the Body and of the Self] 

Urge and urge and urge;
Always the procreant urge of the world.
[4]
– W. Whitman

Upstream , 2019, Oil/Oil Pastel on Mylar, 23 × 35 inches

Upstream, 2019, Oil/Oil Pastel on Mylar, 23 × 35 inches

There are reasons for the inseparable bond between art and nature that seemingly dominates the mainstream canon of art, literature, and poetry. While 19th-century American painting and literature offer the strongest example of these interwoven disciplines, contemporary artists have formed new ways of illustrating the relationship between humankind and nature. While Whitman embodies nature for communicating an idealized, optimistic rhetoric of nature and the state of democracy in the 19th century, Farina offers an alchemical formula that marries his perceptions with his Wisconsin roots. In doing so, the artist offers a holistic body of work where he’s managed to subtly engineer his own methodical language of lyrical paintscapes that are fundamentally grounded by nature and ultimately conceive harmony of color and form.                      

Like optimistic odes to both nature’s sublime beauty and humankind’s relationship with it, Farina achieves all that is tense and tranquil in works like Upstream (2019) and Reservoir (2019). Yet where Reservoir recalls the landscapes of the Hudson River School through its lyrical brushwork echoing the breadth of mountainscapes and foliage (and particularly the reflection of such beauty one finds on the water during a quiet, sunlit afternoon), the artist disrupts that sense of realism through his novel use of color and fluid, almost calligraphic gestures. Both Upstream and Reservoir successfully remind of our own experiences in communion with nature on these tranquil days when it is almost impossible to identify where the real landscape ends and its reflection on the water begins.

Reservoir , 2019, Oil/Oil Pastel on Mylar, 23 × 35 inches

Reservoir, 2019, Oil/Oil Pastel on Mylar, 23 × 35 inches

Farina is interested in energy, especially shifting energies, which is unveiled when works like Reservoir exist beside those such as Upstream, for example. While the former lends the power to humankind, Upstream, in turn, allows nature to reclaim its sublime, unpredictable power. When one paddles a canoe upstream on a river, for example, it is the human who succumb to the power of the water’s current—to either accept or surrender. To run against the wind, or to paddle upstream, or to hike uphill, or to take any other path of most resistance is to experience that universal feeling of discomfort as a product of uncontrollable universal causes working against the mind and body. And while these experiences of resistance versus ease help us to identify what is good for the spirit versus what is demonstrative, these paintings perhaps offer a soothing reminder of the energetic powers of universal nature and therefore exist as a reminder to find a balance that includes an ability to let go. [Let that shit go].

III. A Continuum of the Abstract Tradition in American Painting: The Spiritual and Scientific

Our cultural fixation with abstraction, color-field painting, and the Abstract-Expressionists has remained steadfast through predictable gallery and museum exhibitions, criticism, and publications that populate our cultural landscape all over the world. This interest has connected those pioneering artists of the 1950s–60s to a nonlinear tradition of American painting through the evolution of contemporary art (and its precarious, often unpredictable forms). While artists, writers, and the gatekeepers of contemporary art have persistently tried to denounce painting (especially abstraction) since the 1970s, it in fact serves us to look back at mainstream histories of the movement. Here, we are reminded that abstraction was born from a desire to move away from the social responsibility of art (however privileged), and to use painting to offer spiritual-like experiences, and to mask the artist’s subject, and to break free of consciousness so that painting becomes a product of the artist’s psyche (and where patrons can project their own psyches onto the painting without need for context or specialized knowledge or even connoisseurship). As is true for Farina, the first abstractionists were also dedicated to painting for the sake of painting—of connecting with the spirit, the body, and nature in terms of light, color, the psyche, and movement.

Abstract Vernacular, 2019, Oil/Oil Pastel on Mylar, 40 × 29 inches

Perhaps we are still drawn to abstract painting after over half of a century is that artists continue to invent their own language of painting and sharing hyper-personalized experiences through seemingly random gestures. Farina’s language, however, is never random. Though arguably augmented, each line, stroke, and form on his canvases are usually a product of vision and revision. Working on both canvas and delicate, translucent mylar, Farina offers a mediated view into his psyche and has achieved his own pragmatic, individualized language of painting. Take, for example, Abstract Vernacular (2019), as the archetype of the artist’s invention. Farina’s “abstract vernacular,” paradoxically, was developed after rigorous training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he originally enrolled to train as a realist, figurative painter. In a sort of rebellion against the rigid, uncompromising rules of the Academy, the artist migrated to abstraction and slowly found a new group of mentors in Philadelphia that helped bring an adept understanding of form and color into his work.

 The artist also possesses a sharp knowledge of the history of both Abstract Expressionism and French landscape painting, sometimes revealing his reverence for his largest influences (Joan Mitchell, most notably, and some of de Kooning’s earlier work—in fact, some titles of Farina’s recent paintings reference artists as disparate as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and John Chamberlain: for example, OK Corot (2019). One can further sense a nimble playfulness throughout the artist’s body of work, witnessing how and where the artist challenges himself and continues to “near paradise,” most evidently when comparing Abstract Vernacular to his larger canvases, or even his Field (2019) series. Like Pollock, whose drip paintings allegedly reveal fractiles (that is, perfect form and beauty in nature), Farina’s work also reveals the balance, harmony, and light that we often search for when engaging with painting (whether abstract or representational). [5]

Sprig , 2018, Oil on canvas,, 52 × 60 inches

Sprig, 2018, Oil on canvas,, 52 × 60 inches

Kindred to the great Abstract Expressionists of the past, Matthew Farina continues to develop and refine his own language of colorful, gestural, abstract painting that represents the artist’s individuality of both painterly language and personal experience—most of which indicate his inner-work towards self-actualization. These metaphors (i.e. of the process towards living one’s best life) are among those communicated in the artist’s work. His most recent body, Nearing Paradise, reveals a special vernacular of painting, where he’s synthesized influences and re-constructed his vocabulary. This visual language is one that contradicts traditional assumptions of abstraction and reminds us that artists are still painting for the sake of painting while simultaneously inventing systems that push the medium forward, and articulate a spirituality of visual pleasure—something we often lose sight of as we pursue the daily grind. ◆


[1] Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist, Introduction by Michael Bracewell, (David Zwirner Books, New York, 2019), 24.

[2] Barbara Novak, “Homer and James: The Pragmatic Self Made Concrete,” Voyages of the Self: Pairs, Parallels, and Patterns in American Art and Literature, (Oxford University Press, New York, 2007), 77–79.

[3] William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, (Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 2004), 384–85.

[4] Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass, (Page and Company, New York, 1855/1902), 35.

[5] Florence Williams, The Nature Fix (W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2017), 112–113.

 
 

Gallery Madison Park
45 E 34th St, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10016

NEARING PARADISE:
Paintings by Matthew Farina

Sept 12 - Oct 1, 2019

Opening Reception:
Sept 12, 6-8pm

Gallery Hours
Tuesday – Saturday
11 am – 7 pm
Sunday, Monday: Closed