By Colton Williams
The Carlos Gallery heralded in the new year with an exhibition called The Invisible King by Hans Schmitt-Matzen. The gallery displays the artist’s conceptual work with sculpture and neon and runs from January 19 through March 13.
Schmitt-Matzen is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and works in Nashville as the assistant director of internal affairs at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. To open the gallery, Schmitt-Matzen gave a talk about his work to an audience of students, professors, and art aficionados.
He began with an overview of his work that led him to The Invisible King. First, Schmitt-Matzen discussed his photographic collaborations with Gieves Anderson, a Brooklyn-based photographer, in which they were inspired by libraries and the color and contrast of shelved books.
Schmitt-Matzen said that he is particularly interested in artistic gestures, and how humans interpret these gestures in artwork. He explained, “The main idea was playing off the spines of the book as a gestural form, thinking about finding gesture in the world. We were looking at playing with perspective.”
Schmitt-Matzen then described the process by which these photographs were made, and how the very process of creating the art deepened the work conceptually. “We would print the photograph and then I would do this big gestural oil painting smear on the photo, and then it would be re-photographed and then I would smear it again,” Schmitt-Matzen said. “So there’s a lot of play there whether your eye is reading something done by a camera or being done by human hands. I was thinking a lot about why we take things that may be visually indiscernible, but we assign different meanings to those things based off of the knowledge that it is either made by a person’s hand or by a camera.”
Schmitt-Matzen then talked about the next phase of his work—oil paintings on c-print that he named Aerial Maneuvers—and how during this project he was inspired to create what eventually became The Invisible King. Around this time, Schmitt-Matzen said, his son began making simple ink drawings, the typical swirls, scribbles, and scratches of young children. He then took these drawings and recreated them as sculptures made out of neon.
“As with most parents,” he said, “things change when you have a child.”
Schmitt-Matzen was inspired by his son’s artwork. “I was reflecting upon these little simple drawings he was doing, and basically thinking about how fleeting a moment this was in time. He wasn’t going to stay in this size or continue to draw like this for a very long period of time, so I liked the idea of using light as a medium, light being the fastest thing we know, and trying to harness that and hold it in a moment,” he explained. “So the neon works are almost non-objects, they’re holding light and more like light drawings, so to speak.”
Viewing the sculptures, one is drawn to the light, tracing the intertwining lines of neon in order to understand what Schmitt-Matzen means by trying to harness a particular moment in time. The meaning may not be readily apparent, but an overarching theme in Schmitt-Matzen’s work is the meaning that is created through art subconsciously.
“We create meanings with our bodies and we do that before we’re really self-conscious,” Schmitt-Matzen said. “A lot of what we think of and how we understand the world is through a series of metaphors and a lot of those metaphors come out of our bodily experience.”
“That’s something,” he went on to say, “that registers meaning when you read a gesture in an artwork. That it is really encompassing this bodily experience and it’s something that you can intuit.”
Kara Adams (C’21), who works in the film lab and color-corrects film at the Nabit Art Building, said that she was initially impressed by Schmitt-Matzen’s work and his ability to take something as simple as his son’s drawings and express them in unique ways.
Her view on his work expanded after Schmitt-Matzen discussed his work. “My impression of his work did not so much change as expand. I found the correlation between these simple lines and extreme mediums—the fleeting youth of his son and the light of the neons—to be rather simple yet endearing,” she commented.
Schmitt-Matzen’s work is engaging and unique and well worth taking a visit to the Carlos Gallery to view.