Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Matthew Mahler, Masters of the Fine Arts @ Sardine

Best title for a show ever. When I graduated with my MFA in photography, I wanted to get it embroidered on the back of a beige photojournalist vest. Mahler’s tie-died paintings have become utterly transfixing. I found myself mildly hypnotized trying to decipher the stylish blocked text that spelled out young people / art abbreviations. The text started out as straightforward and readable big block letters, but they have progressed to the point where they are almost abstracted, mirrored, occasionally inverted and forming what look like Native American patterns. The lettering is on top of a solid variety of tie-died canvasses, from the faded t-shirt of a Vietnam vet selling whip-its in balloons in the parking lot of a Dead show, to a bright triumphant t-shirt of Joe Cocker singing at Woodstock. The tie-dye is about as loaded an abstraction as you can get, and laying very contemporary abbreviations on top of them creates a wonderful double negative of hippies and texting short hand that implode into each other to create something very attractive. With that much annoying cultural capital in the paintings, it overwhelming transforms the work into a guilt-free play on color and line. Also, the more I found myself trying to decipher the text, (like what does NSFW mean?), the more transfixing the tie-die became. I found it quite enjoyable to wallow in the desired trippy effect of tie-die. There was also a skull, a Buddha and the Virgin Mary covered in colorful paint that I am a little unresolved about, but I’m looking forward to see where Mahler is going with it.

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