By Robert Seitz
There are a few reasons people react strongly when they see the work, studio, or even a portrait of Matjames Metson. The work is not lazy, and that is a rare and strange thing to see. The entire goal of a success oriented culture is to acquire enough wealth and power to not require repairs to the car, not prepare one’s own meals, or even wipe our own ass. For most it seems the goal of work, is to work as little as possible. Artists do occasionally come along and baffle people as to why someone would spend their time gluing pipe cleaners to blades of grass or smearing the walls in colorful shortening, but seeing work that is not lazy is simply shocking.
The work is energetic in terms of material labor, and a shimmering organic relation of his compartments, windows, ledges and peristyles to their contents. It displays an almost disorienting range – the pieces are clearly his own, which is matured style, but they are all different, which means he’s still mid-flight and awake. Without any interpretation at all, the viewer knows it, and we’re drawn in with him, standing there in his studio. It’s an operating theater in mid procedure, and his exhibit is something like the doctor walking away to take an hour lunch, because the operation has been going on thirty years and he has forgotten to eat for half that time.
The journalists want to know about the flood and the redemption, but the truth is the flood does not end. In New Orleans the storms come in off the gulf horizontal, then fill the air and your boots with steam, it’s never dry and recognition is only half way to redemption for an artist. In Los Angeles the city lets you be if you let her be, she’s a career woman by day, a nightclub singer by night, she never rests and there’s no holding her. He is again in a town that matches his place of mind.
The other reason people react strongly to Metson and his work, is that it’s a display of freedom. This can be very confusing if the sight is unfamiliar. It is the classic example of an artist moving freely among the classes, it is someone who is so non-materialistic, what they touch turns to gold. It is the result of someone who recognizes they have uncanny luck and ran with it, like a lab mouse, pressing the button again and again for the cheese until the maze lost its charm and he’s hopped out. Living in the myth, fulfilling the prophecy, the hard luck tale the journalists want is really just a call to responsibility for people who should be buying art instead of more stainless steel for the kitchen.
When Metson was sitting home alone for weeks on end in a tiny, off the map sub-hamlet in upstate New York, ducking the ingrown hicks in his lone quests for treasures that only ghostly playmates could appreciate, he fully cut his teeth on the art world. Charlotteville was founded by successful New York gallerist Ivan Karp, an intentional community, a crystal vase for the ice water in the veins of its people who’d run for the hills. Their community was a ghost town, and for the boy exposed to lazy eyes and apocalypse preachers, the memory of that haunting silence still drives him to fill every moment with his work. Metson isn’t lazy, because he’s shooting over our heads, way past the insider’s sloppy comeback… and it’s hardly awaiting critical response – this is what the art world raised and shaped him to do.
When the wild child of that back-to-nature phantom tribe landed in New Orleans, he fell in with the opposite of silence. You can expect that the hum of the inner ear, the static of pensive time, was cancelled well by the voices kicking around above-ground crypts, haunting an environment where every crevice was speckled with bile, and the sky menaced you into the arms of strangers stumbling to land’s end (or kissing land’s fall). The grave-robbers and sociopaths, ornamented with looted rings and howling out the chemicals in their arms, punting skulls and exhausting the catechisms of boredom and spilled guts. After his stint in the Charity Mental Health ward, he had his fame. The city had tested him, and found him embroiled, his hand stained by his mad stacks of comics, from a time when self printed matter still had quite an edge, and it cut through. He cut and cut, and after cutting out to Los Angeles, continued. Eventually something, his velveteen rabbit, was returned to him, an only toy for a lonely child of the art world, until his mountain of pitbulls tore that to pieces too.
Metson now is energetic, free, still moving, because he has passed through the thick curtains of himself, his own blood has dried and fluttered away to pigment the varnish on his Lemarchand’s box chairs. He’s arrived from the open road, whistled past the graveyard, passed right through you and me. The materials were chosen for this moment, they found him, he lifted them from time. They’re made of the haunted treasures he pulled from abandoned houses, and the faces in the windows are ghosts, your ghosts: they wink, creek down the hall on transparent wheelchairs, remind you of a history you’ve never even seen, teach you to think in another language, or ask you not to piss in their urn. They’re his ornamental hammers, splitting the bedrock of our artificial comforts to a powder, they’re the warrior’s code, the storied life. He lives these lines written in runes in one of the earliest known English poems, The Wanderer:
No weary mind may stand against the Weird
nor may a wrecked will work new hope;
and so, most often, those eager for fame
bind the dark mood deep in their chests, curbed.
Metson’s work hums with unwrecked will, anyone can sense the effect of true labor. This is what the bared hands are capable of, the velveteen rabbit that can become anything in the arms of a needful imagination. We wish we were as mighty and huggable as this magic bag of rags that is raw human ability, we want this man to succeed and complete the quest he was born to. Who could have imagined that enduring hick thugs, boot rot, and kibble snacks for supper were the first steps towards Valhalla. His work would suggest there’s really no other way.