Naturally Theatrical – Anna VanMatre’s elemental dramas

Ian Green, NY Arts Magazine, July/August 2005

Anna VanMatre, whose work was recently displayed at the Berliner Kunst Project in Berlin and the Broadway Gallery in New York, explores the natural, elemental dramas of the world, portending something potent, and undeniable. In great gray graphite swirls and clouds, VanMatre depicts scenes as oppressive and evocative as a rain-weary morning in fall, at once enveloping the viewer in her claustrophobic mists and drawing them in, deeper, to their almost theatrical beauty. Her work inhabits a dense, ominous, yet absorbingly beautiful space, as bleak and as stunning as the natural phenomena from which she draws inspiration.

VanMatre’s more recent series, such as Metamorphoses-Water, and Metamorphoses-Fire, used brilliant color in contrast to her usual somber palate. Against such captivating desolation, what brightness shines through seems, somehow, brighter–what light penetrates the clouds, is rendered more stunning. It is this focus on the fundamental that animates VanMatre’s art. She works with the excitement and gloom in nature, or in the friction between human and natural drama. Accordingly, her work takes on a grand and powerful tone and is often displayed in enormous sizes–sometimes up to 12 feet. She deals with very big subjects, very powerful forces. It makes sense, then, that her art be displayed in such imposing fashion.

Focusing on dramas played out in such huge scales naturally draws VanMatre toward deep-seated tensions. The conflict between light and dark is central to her work, bringing them, often, into severe contrast. Tension also exists whenever the artist allows humanity to encroach upon her natural landscape. For example, her post-September 11 work, such as WTC Flame and, WTC Blue, draw from this distinctly human conflict, something more naturally rooted. Flame shows, between the gray slits of harsh, man-made angles, fire–stunningly bright and deeply hued. Amid the destruction, the human tragedy of the event, our eye is drawn, instead, into the flame and smoke. The fire is greater than ourselves, greater than the steel and angles that collapse into it, and so, we too, are absorbed. Likewise, in the latter, slits of bright blue sky pierce through the thick clouds of smoke, instantly evoking the power and the beauty of that clear sky amid the crumbling towers and billowing haze.

Hope, tragedy, wonder and dread all share space in VanMatre’s world of clouds and dust. Her work envelops the viewer in all the dread and malaise of that blue-turned-gray morning in fall. Cloaked in the darkness of the catastrophe, yet allowing for the possibility of light, VanMatre mirrors all the turbulence in static, all the beauty in the haze, all the light in the smog.

NY Arts Magazine, July/August 2005