Matthew Bourbon: Hive at the Fort Worth Community Art Center challenges us to settle our buzzing brains through bold color, composition, and paint-manipulation strategies.
Matthew Bourbon: Hive
September 10–October 30, 2021
Fort Worth Community Art Center, Fort Worth
Matthew Bourbon used to make “monkey mind” paintings, a term meditators use to describe how our thoughts battle with the world all day long. Bourbon is an older guy (51), and he lost interest in “defensive” paintings—those that lead with heavy-handed ideas—about four years ago.
The human form is now gone from his art. So is the smashing of the visual field and sly references to art history. Today, Bourbon—a professor of drawing and painting at the University of North Texas in Denton for twenty-one years—makes gorgeous works that seethe with visual intelligence. He’s dumped all the clever conversations and replaced them with a dollop of soul, especially in his exhibition Hive.
This display of eight paintings by Bourbon, currently on view at the Fort Worth Community Art Center through October 30, 2021, doesn’t stoop to sentimentality. The spirit of humor haunts each of these works, which were all completed in the past year. Like it was for the work of many artists, the COVID-19 lockdown was a happy accelerator of Bourbon’s aesthetic production.
The biggest ghost (and comedic style) that shadows these paintings is that of the late, great Canadian-American artist Philip Guston. In his long career, the great influencer cycled from figurative painter to Abstract Expressionist, to figurative painter once again.
Bourbon seems to draw from Guston’s last two style iterations—he also has the artist’s same careful touch with the brush. Bourbon’s penchant for positioning lone shapes in indefinable imagistic fields gives his artworks the same funny, awkward, and absurd vibe that Guston channeled.
In Bourbon’s modest “hive” of works (all titles end with the word “Head”), each central, biomorphic shape hangs out on a narrow proscenium—like a haystack set up against one of those seamless paper backdrops used by photographers, or adrift in space like a wobbling UFO in the sky. The shapes are funny because they linger in their various voids with a sort of bullish pride. They’re just modest shapes, after all, but—a lot like a fat cow in a field—they just won’t stop insisting on the importance of their presence.
Bourbon—an accomplished journalist who has written for Flash Art, Artforum, and ARTnews—is also a meditator who leads the online Iron Bell Zen mindfulness group. This dispensation towards thoughtfulness is evident in his modestly sized works.
The artist doesn’t knock you out with the physical size of his canvases (even as he manages to create a special sense of space/no-space in the works). The biggest of the bunch, Cultivation Head, is sixty by seventy-two inches while the dimensions of Island Head dial down to a smallish eighteen by thirty inches. Each easel-sized painting murmurs along with the wisdom a of guy who’s been pushing aesthetic boundaries for five decades now.
There are so many things that win me over in Bourbon’s work, especially his color choices. The artist’s hues are saturated and bright, and he’s a master of the play of complementaries and primaries—a lot like Stuart Davis or Nina Chanel Abney, but, to me, more sophisticated than either of these artists.
Like his shapes, Bourbon’s colors buzz with humor. There’s something goofily bossy about them—like a three-year-old who stands up with a wooden spoon and tries to conduct the howling of her dog. They jump at you, and they bounce all over the color wheel, dragging your eye this way and that, while never getting acidic, moody, or bashing you over the head. They stay in line, bluntly dance around the canvas, and make you feel at home with the work.
Matthew Bourbon: Hive is scheduled to remain on display through October 30, 2021, at the Fort Worth Community Art Center, 1300 Gendy Street.