WILLIAM MATHESON // Antigen
On view June 29–July 30, 2019
Opening reception Sunday, June 30 (3–5 p.m.)
“I see myself seeing death. It’s like a transparent celluloid image of myself is accompanying me everywhere I go. I see my friends and I see myself and I see breath coming from my lips and the plants are drinking it and I see breath coming from my chest and everything is fading, becoming a shadow that may disappear as the sun goes down.”
—David Wojnarowicz from Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration
Antigen, William Matheson’s fourth solo exhibition at Nationale, is an intimate meditation on memory, loss, and the desire to preserve life in the face of personal and societal collapse. Following the death of a close family member in 2016, Matheson began collecting related photographs, objects, and ephemera that, alongside found images, became the inspiration for this series. With a focus on photographs as subject matter, the paintings in Antigen examine what it means to hold a memory in an image, and the power objects possess in shaping our understanding of the past.
The figures in Antigen are beyond living: a shark suspended in formaldehyde shown on a glowing laptop screen; a woman walking blindfolded in an old, yellowed photograph; a ghostly bust in a dark window—in each, stillness dominates the image. In some instances these figures become like scientific specimens painted in an eerie fluorescent green, while in others a deep indigo permeates the canvas, as if shown through the nocturnal haze of memory.
A small yet powerful painting in the series appears to be of a five petaled green flower on the screen of an iPhone, but is in fact the foil dispenser for the opioid Fentanyl. Its seemingly innocent blossom-like shape has come to embody pain and addiction while exposing the dark side of Big Pharma. Like the shark, the image is also isolated on a screen, vacillating between specimen and symbol—impersonal and subtly threatening.
To complete the exhibition are twelve small sumi ink paintings on paper presented in the backroom that offer a process-based take on the motifs and symbols Matheson engages with. At its core, Antigen is a conversation with darkness, an embrace of what we fear most. By brushing up closer to death, we can learn how to truly live.
William Matheson lives and works in Portland, OR. He has exhibited nationally at galleries in Richmond, VA, Washington, DC, and New York. Internationally, his work has been shown in Switzerland, South Korea, Japan, and the Czech Republic. Matheson is the recipient of a Milton and Sally Avery Fellowship Award from the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT, an Artist Grant from The Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation in Montreal, and a recent Project Grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland, OR. He has been an artist-in-residence at the Örö Residency Programme in Finland, Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA, AIRY in Kofu, Japan, and the Vermont Studio Center. Matheson received his MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, in 2016 and his BFA from Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of Art in 2013. He joined Nationale as a represented artist in the summer of 2015.
Antigen is supported in part by a Project Grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council.
PRESS & MORE
Critical Viewing: Summer Art Happenings, Lindsay Costello, Art & About PDX
July VizArts Monthly, Ním Wunnan, Oregon ArtsWatch
Things to Do Around Portland: the Arts, Amy Wang, The Oregonian
William Matheson’s Nocturnes: What You See You Also Don’t See, Paul Maziar (commissioned essay)
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