IN CONVERSATION WITH TAMSEN HOPKINSON
Matt Arbuckle: My process starts with a feeling - a need to go out into the world and get re-energised or visually stimulated again. I use a camera and I shoot on film as a way of drawing and composing ideas. An important part of this process is bringing my eye right up to the viewfinder and using the physical frame to create the composition - as opposed to composing the image on a digital screen. There is a considered immediacy that I am drawn to; a suspended moment. I am very particular about what I choose to shoot and tend to be economical with film as I'm often limited to 24 or 36 shots.
Tamsen Hopkinson: What do you look for when you are composing your images? Do you choose specific locations to shoot?
Arbuckle: I don't go out looking for particular locations - I look for particular formal compositions. Line, form, shadow and light are common themes that run through the images. I would like to take photos of people but I'm too shy to ask them and I don't like intruding on their space. If I can find someone and take a photo without them knowing, I do that ... perhaps the light is sitting well on them, or they are dressed funnier than me (laughs).
I have bags and bags full of these photo drawings and I think of them like a visual diary. Often I will spread them all out on the floor and just look at them. I don't pick one and paint directly from it, I just keep looking at them. After a while you might see something and pull it out. I don't see any image as being a pure reference; it isn't strict like that. It's a drawing thing - they give me a little kick-start.
Hopkinson: The idea of a suspended moment is an interesting link to your paintings. I feel like you play with this suspended moment by working the surface with particular mark-making and scratching. You create a tension between stopping and starting, creating a relationship with the viewer and the painting.
Arbuckle: I often feel like I am working out space in paintings - a constant push and pull, always coming back to the surface. There is a lot of scumble and drag, scratching and dry-brushing. I always try to challenge myself to make paintings that are stripped back and have room to breathe. I'm interested in the tension created by having somewhere for the eye to sit before moving back into more gestural and immediate marks - a resting place before jumping back into the party.
Hopkinson: I've noticed that in most of your paintings there is a horizon line that runs along the bottom of the board or canvas. This line grounds the more gestural vertical marks and gives the painting a feeling of stability; a grounding. It's almost like you are finding a common physical link between the viewer and the painting. It is also a direct reference to the landscape that features over and over again in your drawings ...
Arbuckle: It's funny that you say that because I don't like thinking that there is, but I can see it! The New Zealand and Australian landscape informs a lot of historical and contemporary painting. I draw from the 'everyday' - perhaps it made its way in without me being aware? I am interested in making my painting as accessible as possible and this grounding could be seen as a link between my experience of the world - my process of drawing and mark-making - as a way of trying to communicate this to an viewer.
Hopkinson: I think that idea of grounding is interesting - a common ground. This can be extended when we talk about scale, and the body in relation to your paintings. How does scale inform the viewer's experience of seeing your paintings?
Arbuckle: I have become increasingly interested in Japanese decorative screens and their practical use of dividing interior rooms. I have also been thinking about the interaction between the scale of mark-making in relation to the human body, which is a measure we all use to experience artwork. I like the fact that you can walk around the painting and it presents different surfaces or different 'pictures' depending on where you are standing. This relationship between the physical body of a viewer and the painting itself creates movement - for the viewer and also for the work.