Artist Interview: Francis Matthews
Francis Matthews is a painter based in Dublin, Ireland. He is represented by Cherrylane Fine Arts.
Crampton Court by Francis Matthews
What attracts you most to the scenes that you paint?
Light is the main thing, but it can also be an interesting composition (usually involving certain temporary things like graffiti, bins, parked cars, etc.) that will strike me as I’m walking about.
Your images show the existence of people without the people. Is there a reason why you choose to not paint figures in your scenes?
There are a few reasons. There is a sense of freedom I enjoy in being in a place that is usually populated when there is no one there. Not painting figures in the scenes can, I think, put the viewer in the position of the person alone in these places. It can also bring forth the built form(and the evidence of inhabitation) as the subject of the painting. Another thing it can do, which was unintended but I like hearing about it, is that it can present a setting that the viewer can imagine something happening in (or that something has just happened in).
Plesants Lane by Francis Matthews
St. Stephens Green by Francis Matthews
After viewing an exhibition of Gerhard Richter’s work, which inspired your interest in painting from photographs, how are your paintings different from before working this way?
I’ve been using photographs since I started painting full time, but before then I did some life painting and still lifes. In my teens I painted, in watercolours, some imagined and some remembered scenes set in churches, bedrooms, battlegrounds, etc.
Do you feel the photographs you take as resource material could be final works in themselves? If not, how does the painting complete the transformation for you?
I’d say not that many are of a good enough quality to be something themselves, they tend to be a little out of focus and have artifacts. There are some that I haven’t painted and that I think work better as photographs.
That second question is one that I’ve been thinking about on and off for years but I don’t have a satisfactory answer for it yet, apart from fixing artifacts and unwanted blurring. Here are two thoughts on it though.
The painting is fairly meticulous which means I have to study the image carefully in all it’s details to paint it. I think this attention to detail can encourage people who view the painting to also look closer at the image, to observe more.
The finished painting is always different from the photograph too, sometimes(rarely) I’ll consciously alter something like a perspective distortion, but usually it differs in my attempt to get the right colour or the level of detail of a texture I would like. I’m not sure how much value this adds but it does alter the original image in the process.
O'Reilly's by Francis Matthews
Lennox Street by Francis Matthews
How has your background in architecture influenced your paintings?
It has influenced a few aspects of my paintings. I found, after years, in the design process that I was drawn to light, perception, movement and the consideration of the context as my main priorities.
My interest in light, how it plays on textures and surfaces and how it delineates a place remains as a very apparent subject in my paintings. As is my interest in the built form of the city and the evidence of it’s inhabitation; how places are used is a strong consideration in design.
I was also attracted in studying architecture to neglected areas, where the appearance of things aren’t designed so much but emerge out of utility, eg. laneways, the backs of restaurants, etc. These undesigned places have a very distinct appeal which continues to reappear in my paintings.
Architecture also gave me an awareness of spatial relations and how spaces are perceived which I think has influenced how I compose some of the paintings. I consciously search for places which have a variety of depths and perspectives in close proximity so their relation to each other can be seen within the one image.
Are there any other life experiences you’ve had that have affected your artwork today?
My Dad drew and painted and he thought and encouraged me when I was younger. I doubt I’d be painting if he didn’t.
Brookfield Street by Francis Matthews
Beneath Clanbrassil Street by Francis Matthews
Have you had any interesting experiences while photographing Dublin at night?
Not that much has happened, I tend to move along pretty quickly from place to place. I met an astronomer one night and looked at the stars through his telescope, and once walking along the Liffey a man behind me wanted to rob me but I crossed the road and he didn’t follow.
What do you feel hinders you the most creatively?
Deciding what direction my painting should go, I usually err on the side of ‘this shouldn’t be a conscious thing’. Knowing whether something is a good idea and/or trying to find justification for it is a hard thing.
Dorset St. by Francis Matthews
Berestoft Place by Francis Matthews
What do you dream about?
It’s happened a few times if I’ve been painting a lot where my dream has just been paint being moved about by a brush very close up. Very boring. Otherwise the usual, people not being who they are in places that feel very familiar.
What’s your life’s philosophy?
I want to try fulfill potentials which I hope can be chosen.
Do you have a favorite book/story?
Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.
This interview originally appeared in issue 6.