Friday, October 19, 2012

Sarah Mattes

I found myself in Red Hook again in the same building that Michael Berryhill's studio is in. This time I was visiting with artist Sarah Mattes, entertained by the fact that for the second time around I was convinced it wasn't the right building because of a sign at the top that reads "STORAGE." Lost on the huge floor where the artists are "stored," Sarah tracked me down and escorted me to her space. Sarah had quite a few new pieces laid out on the floor and hung on the walls. It felt like it was somewhere between an art installation, a working studio and construction zone - it was brimming with energy. As we began the day talking about her new work and catching up on what shows we had seen and which openings we had gone to so far this fall, I got out my little bag of pencils and she got out her big bag of clay. We were ready to do our studies, hers in the third dimension and mine in the second.

Two hours into looking at her work, I began to really let my imagination make a run for it. Sarah's sculptures/paintings are good at giving that run a head start. I began to think that her sparse yet intricate pieces sometimes look like scaled down stage sets. Not a set you might find for the newest Broadway Musical hit, but more like one that would be used for a play associated with the Theatre of the Absurd. I could almost envision thumb-sized actors walking back and forth among her collages of found objects. Maybe it is Nagg and Nell from Beckett's Endgame, sitting nestled in their dustbins at the edge of one of the repainted faux tiles Sarah uses as a base for one of her pieces. Discarded planks of wood stand like pillars or suggest the corner of a room - the details of dried up vines that once grew on the wood giving it a definitive history. Her work allows the otherwise discarded objects to live in a kind of fantasy world, where all things hold importance, from a spoon used to mix plaster and paint to a drop cloth saturated with yesterday's stains.

Sarah explained to me that much of the materials she uses in her work she happens upon on the street or down the hall in her building. It is very rarely a Home Depot sort of situation. I loved hearing about the free pile that has developed on her floor. She told me that at the beginning there were these crazy finds and slowly the finds began to have price tags on them as folks realized they might be able to make a profit from their studio debris, which is not so good for scavengers like Sarah. She did buy several bags of clay from the pile at a very low price, and she later discovered that she could fire clay works down the hall on her floor. I could see how this kind of serendipity finds its way into her life as an artist. Her work is alive with the chance happenings of her experience.

We ended our time together with scrumptious bites of fig on toast and some talk over whether or not we would make it out to openings that night. Sometimes after such a productive day it just feels so good to go home and prepare for the next day in the studio - nothing to disrupt the flow. She is curating a show at her alma mater Collgate University in the Clifford Art Gallery called External Original, which is up from October 29 - November 20, 2012. She is also in a show upstate titled Excursions on a Wobbly Rail that is curated by Brad Hajzak at Roos Art in Rosendale NY and is open until November 17th. That would be a nice trip up the river, equal parts foliage viewing and gallery going. All and all Sarah and I had a choice time together. Please check out more of her work at

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