If you haven’t seen Matthew Northridge’s solo show Pictures by Wire and Wireless at KANSAS, the newest gallery on Tribeca’s up-and-coming gallery row, you’re in luck. The show has just been extended until Saturday, January 7th. Art Forum magazine has placed Pictures by Wire and Wireless on their “Critic’s Pick” list. I had the pleasure of seeing the show in New York this November and can assure you that the distinction is well deserved.
Northridge is one of the few contemporary artists I can think of pushing the boundaries of collage as an art form. Equally playful and orderly, his obsessive, detailed work, composed of cultural ephemera, is never marred by irksome cleverness or a hollow cataloging impulse. This is art that improves upon closer examination–art that reveals itself slowly without ever relinquishing all of its mysteries.
“Welcome Back to the Nuclear Age” is a good case in point. This colorful, tangled loop immediately grabbed my attention when I saw it in the gallery. But only when I approached the piece did I realize that it was a collage composed of hundreds of carefully arranged black lines from various found magazines, ads, books, and maps. (You can click on the “detail” image below to get a closer look).
Northridge’s art work sings in KANSAS’s spacious galleries. While it’s easy to become overly focused on the intricate construction of these pieces, landscape is really the central theme that ties all of the work in Pictures by Wire and Wireless together. Viewing the show as a whole allowed me to better appreciate the artist’s talent for creating highly original, imaginary scenes.
Whether looking at a rolled map of Washington D.C. encased in steel bars, the haunting skies on raffle tickets in “How to Know (and Predict) the Weather,” the layered collages of found nature images, or the miniature structures in “Barns and Other Outbuildings,” Northridge’s invented landscapes always have a humorous, otherworldly quality. His marvelous piece, Northeast, reminds me simultaneously of an aerial view of a city, children’s blocks, windows in a skyscraper, and colorful beds from a dollhouse.
It is this push/pull between the somber and the playful that makes Northridge’s work so intriguing. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the colorful tangled loop in “Welcome Back to the Nuclear Age” (at the beginning of this article) is reminiscent of a tourist map or a child’s board game, except that this particular version goes nowhere. And then there’s the title with its ominous mention of “the Nuclear Age.”
In his installation Mississippi, Northridge isolates the jagged line of America’s longest river and redraws it in its entirety on the gallery wall. Closer study reveals that the innocuous contour, which initially appears like an incidental crack in the wall, is in fact a carefully routed groove, painted and finished in its original cartographic position.
The fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk” sprung to mind when I first saw the miniature, knee-high ladders in Northridge’s Twelve Ladders, or, How I Planned My Escape. I also thought of the Biblical tale of Jacob’s Ladder–the ladder to heaven Jacob dreams of during his flight from his brother Esau. (As an aside, one of the most marvelous depictions of Jacob’s Ladder I’ve ever seen in art is on the side of Bath Abbey in England.) Writer Marshall Price argues that Northridge’s Twelve Ladders also references Pedro Almodovar’s film “in which masterful depictions of escapism transport us to an entirely new realm.” Twelve Ladders, or, How I Planned My Escape suggests that paradise can be glimpsed, although it may be impossible to reach.
Northridge is a master at the medium of paper and understands that the most inventive art often arises out of self-imposed limitations. (After all, too much choice may be paralyzing, particularly for an artist.)
His ongoing collage series The World We Live In, on view in the back gallery, is an excellent example of how Northridge’s work has evolved within these confines. Named after a popular 1950’s reference book published by Time Life, the series currently numbers over 165 pieces and uses found images, photography, text, drawing, and collage.
The collages have a dream-like quality. Their layers bear the patina of time and far-off places; they explore the allusive connections between space, time, and memory. Each 10” x 8” work is a landscape that is both natural and manmade. This compelling series is an exercise in free association and shows the unexpected results of daily “drawing” within self-created limits.
Matthew Northridge was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, received his BA from the Boston College in 1997 and his MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999. He has had solo exhibitions at Gorney Bravin + Lee in New York and Western Exhibitions in Chicago. His work has been seen in such venues as the Brooklyn Museum, New York; The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; The National Academy Museum, New York; the Weatherspoon Art Museum, North Carolina and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin among many others.
This is Matthew Northridge’s first show with KANSAS. He currently lives and works in New York City. To see more of Matthew Northridge’s art work, please visit his website.
Pictures by Wire and Wireless has been extended through Saturday, January 7, 2012. KANSAS gallery is located in Tribeca at 59 Franklin Street between Lafayette and Broadway. For more information, please email Steven Stewart at [email protected] or visit the KANSAS website.
I highly recommend this show. Don’t miss it!
(Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are courtesy Matthew Northridge and KANSAS Gallery and were used with permission from the artist.)
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