VIEW.

Everything is a Nail

Artwork by Rob Matthews

Rob Matthews headshot

Rob Matthews was born in North Carolina and raised in Mississippi and Tennessee. Matthews received his B.F.A. from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his M.F.A. from the Virginia Commonwealth University.

He worked in Philadelphia for 14 years before returning to Tennessee in 2013.

Matthews is currently represented by David Lusk Gallery in Memphis/Nashville, TN.
In addition to multiple solo exhibitions and group shows at various galleries, he has been included in exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC and the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock, AR. Non-commercial solo shows include the Atlanta Contemporary, Lipscomb University, Virginia Commonwealth, the University of Alabama, and Emory and Henry College.

His work is held in the public collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, The Woodmere Art Museum, the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the New York Public Library, Tennessee State University, the Metro Nashville Courthouse, the Noelle Hotel and the Joseph Hotel.

In 2011, Matthews was a resident at the Ucross Foundation near Sheridan, Wyoming.
Matthews received the Pew Fellowship in 2009. Prior to that he received Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowships in 2004 and 2008.

Using bold shapes and colors to distort the human figure, this series of work seamlessly weaves together historical context with blazing injustices today. According to Rob,

"This selection of work continues to focus on issues addressed in my art over the past 5 years and a series of solo exhibitions. Themes of upheaval, power, displacement and the unspoken message of 'home' anchor the work. Some subjects of these paintings are heroes. Other subjects are villians. The remaining that are depicted are caught in the middle. All of the work is made to spend time considering events and people that get lost in the shuffle of the ever-changing news cycle. The paintings examine current upheaval within a longer historical view- for instance, the effects of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. That said, the work does solely consider Syria or other issues in the Middle East. The southern U.S. border, Sub-Saharan and Saharan Africa also come into play."

"The title is a reference to Abraham Maslow's 'The law of the instrument', which says 'I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.' It's a critique of some problem solving and the over reliance on one tool as a means to solve problems.

I used it because a lot of things I made this work about are problems that are cyclical in nature, possible because there is very little change in the way people think about problems or address them."

Mary of the Sea

Mary of the Sea
Acrylic on canvas over wood panel
2018


The subject is a combination of a refugee and a medieval Mary Magdalene. Some medieval legends tell that, years after the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene was driven away from her homeland by pagans and ended up in southern France, thus becoming a refugee herself.

Albert Toungoumale Baba
Acrylic, acrylic gouache on canvas over wood panel
2018


Albert Toungoumale Baba was a Catholic priest in the Central African Republic who was killed by a militant group. The pattern here reflects clothing he was photographed in.

Albert Toungaoumale

Jean Ndulani

Jean-Pierre Ndulani
Acrylic, acrylic gouache on canvas over wood panel
2018


Jean-Pierre Ndulani was a Congolese priest kidnapped and murdered by rebel forces. The pattern is reflective of clothing he wore. Note how the geometric shapes relate to the shapes featured in The Cartographer. His body was found in a mass grave.

Spirit 1

Spirits 1 and 2
Acrylic on canvas over wood panel
2018


These are two of a large group of men on one of hundreds of boats that try to cross the Mediterranean from Libya or somewhere similar in an effort to get to Italy or Spain. Their names are unknown— they could be from a Sub-Saharan or Saharan nation. They are geometrically hollowed-out shells of their former selves, leaving everything behind to start something new.

Spirit 2

Khaled al-Asaad
Acrylic, acrylic gouache on canvas over wood panel
2018


Khaled al-Asaad was a Syrian archaeologist and head of antiquities for the ancient city of Palmyra. He was born and raised in Palmyra and refused to leave when ISIS entered the city. He was publicly executed in gruesome fashion by ISIS while attempting to hide antiquities in the city museum from them so they could not destroy the ancient art.

Khaled al Asaad

The Cartographer Rob Matthews

The Cartographer
Acrylic on canvas over wood panel
2018


The face is of Francois Georges-Picot, one of the creators of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The line drawings are the map of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The body is a mirror image of the same Holbein abstraction used in The Chess Player. The colorful blocks are inspired by artists such as Mondrian or Malevich’s utopian design structures— one man’s utopia is another’s dystopia. These structures pop up in smaller works within this exhibit.

The Chess Player
Acrylic, Acrylic gouache on canvas over wood panel
2018


The head is a mashup of Paul Cambon and Sir Edward Grey, the French and English signatories for the Sykes-Picot Agreement— essentially the key figures responsible for carving up the Middle East. The body is an abstraction of a Hans Holbein (16th century German painter and printmaker) portrait . The chess player represents humanity carving up the Middle East. The chess player is an ages-old theme running through art, pointing towards competition, debate and power.

The Chess Player

Flight to Egypt

Flight to Egypt
Acrylic, acrylic gouache on canvas over wood panel
2018


The subject is Gabriela Hernandez, a 27-year-old pregnant mother detained at the US border near Tijuana. The base layers of the work are organic and less rigid, but have a rigid linear system imposed on them. The linear work is medieval in nature, generated from a Madonna and Child icon.

Image

The End of Time
Gouache, sumi ink on paper on canvas over wood panel
2015


“This is the first piece made in this show and is an interpretation from a previous drawing called, The Abyss of Birds. Both this piece and the previous drawing reference Olivier Messiaen’s composition, Quartet for the End of Time.
Messiaen composed the bulk of his Quartet as a prisoner of war in WWII. It was debuted in the prison camp. The title refers to the biblical book of Revelation where time is removed as a construct and nothing is left but the eternal. It is not the “end of time” in a horrifying, apocalyptic way, but removing time as a measurement or barrier. Despite not being a direct motivation for its composing, the hope of Messiaen’s Quartet stands in direction opposition to the circumstances that surrounded the composer.
Messiaen was captured with one movement of the quartet on him, the Abyss of Birds- a solo clarinet section of the piece. He was marched for dozens of miles as a prisoner of war, along with his fellow soldiers, and left in an empty field in anticipation of their prison being built. It was in that field, after that march, that the Abyss had its first performance, by a fellow soldier and musician that had a clarinet with him.
In both the drawing and this new work, the figure on the left holds the sheet music for the Abyss of Birds while the figure on the right plays the clarinet.
In The End of Time, the figures stand on a coastline with reddened water behind them. The composition is borrowed from Picasso’s Pipes of Pan. Picasso’s piece, created in 1923 during his classical period, uses a Greek sculptural density and solidity in the figures and overlooks a calm Mediterranean view. Rather than use this peaceful view of the sea that has, for generations, brought people to it for its tranquility, I choose to depict the Mediterranean for the millennia-old bloodbath that it is.
In the bottom left of the piece is a head. It is that of Matthew Ayariga, the lone Ghanan decapitated alongside 20 Coptic Christians from Egypt on a Libyan coast. There is some confusion whether he was from Ghana or Chad.
A video of this mass murder was released in February of 2015.”

-Rob Matthews

Auto Auto Harp Harp

Auto Auto Harp Harp
Gouache on paper on canvas over wood panel
2015


Auto Auto, Harp Harp, is in theory, the most optimistic piece of the show. It features two benevolent sirens on the shore of the sea, calling people to them. The cloud here is a modified version of the cloud in The End of Time, reversed, as if viewed from the other side of the sea, away from a destructive force.
At the base of the figures is a tree stump, an indication of human destruction, and a cluster of mushrooms. Syrians entering Germany would become sick and some may possibly have died from eating death cap mushrooms. Even the most optimistic work in this show has the presence of danger.

Everything is a Nail will be on display in-person in the Bullpen Gallery from January 19th- May 15th, 2021.