Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Wednesday 12 December 2018

What Lies Beneath: Tobernea by Francis Matthews

Tobernea by Francis Matthews, Oil on canvas; Courtesy of the artist and The Molesworth Gallery

Tobernea by Francis Matthews
Tobernea by Francis Matthews

Niall MacMonagle

Empty streets and dark alleyways are for artist Francis Matthews familiar stomping grounds. Using photographs, in his studio, in daylight, he recreates these urban mood pieces.

Is he ever nervous when he goes in search of subject matter? His father practised taekwondo, his mother judo and "they taught me how to look after myself. And I attend capoeira classes. And I can run!"

Growing up in Inchicore, his father taught Matthews how to draw and he went on to study architecture at UCD but, on graduating, took a year out, painted and discovered that art not architecture would be his life.

His last show featured "a specific route from Heytesbury Street to Harcourt Street", his new show, his fifth solo show, is less contained. "I've included Capel Street and daylight."

In this work, Tobernea, there's even a blue sky. The heatwave this summer meant evening swims at Seapoint where he spotted this cul-de-sac. Every detail is pin-prick perfect. Double-yellow lines foreground and line the roadway, black and white street signs, white window frames and yard walls, a translucent sea and sky in the distance caught his eye. Facing east those plain, sometimes shadowed mousey-coloured buildings and stonework are lit in soft, gentle evening sun.

Matthews waited "until that shadow was perpendicular to the facade on the left". Purposely using a camera that isn't high quality, "I prefer an indistinct, ambiguous photograph. Then I can decide how distinct to make it, how much attention to give to detail. I straighten walls to have them parallel to the edge of the canvas".

Gerhard Richter's work convinced him that "it's legitimate to use photography to paint from and a viewer will inspect a work more if they know it's a painting not a photograph".

Every Francis Matthews painting begins as black gesso on canvas. Using a grid he builds up the work square by square using a 0000 size brush. This painting took three weeks. "I spent a day on the gable end, top left." Gradually, gradually he lets in the light. Just as "architecture is all about light, view, perception" so too are Matthews's paintings.

'New Paintings by Francis Matthews', The Molesworth Gallery to October 31.

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