ORGAN THING: Mat Humphrey’s painterly light, the sound of his paint and another opening at New Art Projects…

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MAT HUMPHREY – It Comes in Waves at New Art Projects, Hackney, November 2017

MAT HUMPHREY – It Comes in Waves at New Art Projects, Hackney, London E8, November 2017 –  The exhibition appears very sparse as you walk down those very white stairs, almost bare in this very white basement gallery space, that first powerful  impression as you descend – always a dramatic entry when a new show opens at Fred Mann’s New Art Projects space, those stairs set up things so well –  it looks sparse, relatively small monochrome pieces on the seemingly bigger than they usually appear to be white walls of the basement.

The Hackney gallery is along Sheep Lane, a short stop from London Fields and parallel to the now ridiculously fashionable arrogance of Broadway Market.  Those almost halcyon days of “Welcome To Hackney” painted on burnt out cars long gone now – that Psychic TV cross just about surviving on that beautiful black door on Beck Road – things have changed around here.  Things have changed in terms of art as well, the galleries and spaces are fewer in number now, a little more upmarket these days, a tad more formal than the now gentrified-out DIY squatted spaces that originally helped establish East London’s artistic reputation back there at the end of the last century.  East London isn’t that great in terms of being an actual artist now, besides the obvious fact that there’s far fewer actual space to show work  now of course, the galleries that do exist these days are all mostly back in the hands of the rule-obeying art establishment who do it all in such a tediously formal kind of way, an almost closed shop, shutters up, spaces run by gallery owners who seemingly never venture outside their own small art-school circles, who appear to  never dream of going to check out the artist-run things that occasionally do still happen now and again on their doorsteps, a system run by a set of curators and gallery owners who on the whole give the impression that all that is somehow beneath them.   All this is particularly on our minds tonight as we pass by that studded cross on that now faded black door on Beck Road and drop in to the rather formal art space that is New Art Projects on the way to the Friday night opening of the former home of Throbbing Gristle’s Death Factory and that excellent Martello Street Artist’s Studios open weekend.

Now as frustrating as it is that the people who run these formal establishment spaces are just not interested in what goes on right under their noses, as annoying as it is that they appear to not even want the general public in their exclusive spaces and places, some of them do put on some rather decent art shows now and again, New Art Projects in particular, even if it is a somewhat formally polite and rather artistically conservative space, has been consistently rewarding over the last eighteen or so months.  Without being massively exciting or ground-breaking, the shows there have been on the whole rather good, one or two of them rather more than that. and yes of course there’s a very big place for a formal art gallery and the established way of doing things, does really have to be the only way? Just when is punk rock going to actually hit the art world? Will it ever?

None of these things are the concern of the painter who’s work is hanging on these white gallery walls for tonight and will no doubt hang there for the next couple of months,  Mat Humphrey is a London-based artist who’s been building himself a healthy reputation for sometime now, he as an opening at the East London space tonight, we’re told that “for his first exhibition at New Art Projects he’s created an extraordinary series of new paintings….”, let’s stop raging again the machine and go see…

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MAT HUMPHREY – It Comes in Waves at New Art Projects, Hackney, November 2017

The first impression as you descend those stairs is one of subtle restraint, of something rather refined, something intriguingly dark, something pulling you in, an impression of an artist challenging himself as much as he’s challenging you with his new body of work – a new light as it were. “It Comes in Waves” isn’t a show that’s going to assault you with noise or colour, these aren’t pieces that are going to jump off the wall and demand you engage with them, this isn’t immediate, this isn’t art that wants to fight with you, it doesn’t want to smack you in the face. That first impression, even if you are somewhat familiar with the previous work of the artist, is almost kind of shocking. Almost shocked by the complete lack of colour, the lack of visual punch, and then you get in there and have a proper look, you avid everyone who wants to say hello and take a quiet look, a real look, you block out the opening night noise and the chatter and allow yourself a first close encounter, a view from the shoreline, from the darkness of the beach or from the stern of that boat out there in there away from the land aurrounded by nothing but the night, you isolte yourself and a body of work start to reveal a painter who really does want to challenge both you and himself, a painter who wants to do a little more than just churn the same painting as before out. an artist who wants to explore paint and light and the notions of actually being a painter.  What might not look that exciting at  first glance, when you really do start to quietly look, actually is rather – well I’m not sure I actually want to say exciting – a painter who is challenging, an artist challenging something or someone with a little bit more depth, something to positively engage with. There’s a damn good painter here, a proper good painter, an artist who wants to question himself a bit more than most, and actually,  well yes it is exciting – as annoying as this art system is, it does sometimes justify itself, sometimes, nowhere near all the time, jsut sometimes…

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MAT HUMPHREY – It Comes in Waves at New Art Projects, Hackney, November 2017

Mat Humphrey is exploring the surface of the sea in beautiful way here, the quiet sound of it all, the calmness rather than the rage, and at the same time he’s exploring the bed, the depths – he’s creating monochrome landscapes that explore the vegetation of the seabed, the fauna that grows there, the light that reaches down to the urchin shells, seaweed, whale skin, sand ripples and coral.  There’s something beautiful in the way the paint is used to explore light, there’s a quiet dynamic here, he’s worked his monochromatic palette and his beautifully applied oil paint so well to create a sense of something wonderfully spacial as well as something rather special, the surface paintings are the ones that really delight –  a sense of light, of sound, of movement (or the sense of a lack of sound or movement), the refraction of light, the shimmer of sound, the space between the sounds, that something special that comes from looking out to sea, that splendid isolation, that something untouched or maybe that something that can’t be controlled by human hand like the land can  – the more you look at it the more beautiful this refined body of work gets, you can’t photograph the sea, you can really only try to paint it.    

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MAT HUMPHREY – It Comes in Waves at New Art Projects, Hackney, November 2017


We’re told that “The palette of these works pays homage to the international language of OP Art. The monochrome and undulating lines and dots of Bridget Riley or the geometric compositions of Victor Vasarely.  
However these new paintings also reference an on-going exploration in contemporary installation and the experimental work of Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto), who explores the images made by sound and water”, we’re off ot one of Bridget’s places in a bit, and yes there is an op art undercurrent here, as well as an experimental edge, a slight sense of a black and white TV screen or a primtive digital engagement… 

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MAT HUMPHREY – It Comes in Waves at New Art Projects, Hackney, November 2017

You might say (as others have) that these are Mat Humphrey’s darkest paintings to date, then again you might say they’re his most beautifully rewarding, his most peaceful, his least darkest. You might say these pieces are beautifully at ease, that this is the work of an artist feeling rather good about what he’s doing, a painter who’s enjoying the challenge of being a painter, enjoying the language of paint, The gallery statement might drop a name or two when it tells of pop stars or collections that feature his work (indeed there might be one or two pop stars in here tonight) but none of that is important, it isn’t about who’s fashionable or raging against gallery systems or name-dropping, this is all about paint and painting and the challenge of it all, about the the need for it, the need to do it, this is a body of work from an exciting painter (yes I did say it in the end, said it twice), an exciting painter and a rather fine show.  Right, I’m off rage against that machine some more, off to explore Martello Street, let’s go see what the walls of the Death Factory have to offer tonight.    (sw)   

Mat Humphrey’s show runs at New Art Projects until December 23rd.  New Art Projects is at 6d Sheep Lane, Hackney, London, E8 4QS.  Just beside Broadway Market, not far from the Regents Canal and a stone’s throw from Beck Road and that faded door.

Click on an image to enlarge or to run the fracture slide show and get a tiny bit of the badly photographed flavour…

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One thought on “ORGAN THING: Mat Humphrey’s painterly light, the sound of his paint and another opening at New Art Projects…

  1. Pingback: ORGAN THING: Same Same But Different, three artists, Sally Booth, Hugh Huddy and Aaron McPeake, and a must see show to go listen to at Hackney’s Guest Projects… | THE ORGAN

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