Matt Arbuckle 'Beatbox Blues Harp', catalogue essay by Anthony Oates
“There is a considered immediacy that I am drawn to: a suspended moment.”
“I often feel like I am working out space in painting – a constant push and pull, always coming back to the surface… I always try to challenge myself to make paintings that are stripped back and have room to breathe.”
For Matt Arbuckle the qualities of a found object present stimulus for creative expansion. A textured ground, a scuffed scrawl or a folded spine elicits a responsive gesture. Often the artist’s marks are indistinguishable from those that are pre-existing to the object, appearing somewhat haphazard or accidental. Equally aloof, his interventions sit suspended between one action and the next.
In his current series, Arbuckle’s drawings on found books and concertina pamphlets inform larger shaped canvases that expand his interest in Japanese folding screens (byobu – meaning “wind wall”). The architecture of the folded screen presents a similar flexibility to his found objects. Its lightness of design ensures that as a structure it is never completely static. It is easily reconfigured to partition rooms, shift encounters and call into question our angle of repose. It simultaneously divides and creates space.
The gestural marks that Arbuckle has applied to his screens affords a similar malleability - his surface shifts from frenzied to silent, transparent to opaque. Passages recall the painterly abstraction of Clyfford Still, sharing a sense of the instinctive mark and an all-over application that directly engages with bodily experience. Arbuckle’s turbulent brushwork engulfs the spectator, locating the stillness of a “suspended moment” in what could be seen as paralleling the Japanese aesthetic concept of Ma – space.
While Ma can be interpreted as a gap, a pause or an interval between markers, actions or events, it possesses a more enlightening spatial / temporal connotation in which to consider Arbuckle’s work. In his ground-breaking architectural study, Gunter Nitschke characterised Ma as a “consciousness of place,” not empirically physical but rather a state of awareness in which form and non-form, object and space are “coupled with subjective experience” to elicit an atmosphere of energy. While Ma translates to empty space, it is not considered as absence but as rather the binding core of experience. Arbuckle’s art acts as an interval in motion, full of energy and buoyancy yet always in transition. His work elicits a moment in which we are granted “room to breathe.”