New York artist Chason Matthams is a painter of our times, making work referencing memes, digital interfaces, net art, and generations of art history. In his latest show at Thierry Goldberg, he "has cast a wide net, reeling in images from all over the digital spectrum, their forced juxtapositions leading to pointed and humorous commentary." His work perfectly illustrates the accelerated context collapse of the last decade. It is from this collapse that Matthams rebuilds context and meaning.
In Various Spectrums… we see eleven spectrums, some as traditional rainbows, and some as more contemporary references, all set in Thomas Moran's painting Rainbow Over the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Here, Matthams has used the rainbow— a sometimes "utopian and escapist symbol"— as a counterpoint to blind optimism. The rainbow is stripped of meaning through its sheer repetition, like repeating a word out loud so many times over it sounds absurd.
His paintings Zeus (magenta) and Goddess with Diadem (magenta) are gorgeously rendered neo-classical bust paintings awash in a soft magenta glow. The colors are a clear nod to vaporwave aesthetics, and in this way repurposes imagery that is already on at least its third repurposing— from the ancients, to the Renaissance, to the 'net. It's enough to wonder if context collapse can be traced to Renaissance artists repurposing ancient Greco-Roman art.
Daffy Duck with ´The Ecstatic Virgin Anna Katharina Emerich` by Gabriel Von Max", oil and acrylic on cotton, 2015
In Rainbow Balloon 5 Matthams has again juxtaposed a contemporary rainbow with Thomas Moran's Rainbow Over the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This time we see a single rainbow mylar balloon obscuring the middle of Moran's natural beauty. Its humor is kitschy but also dark in the way it highlights the two polarities of ecological collapse— the natural world being annihilated and the consumer trash causing it.