Melbourne Artist Matthew Dettmer
Melbourne-based Matthew Dettmer’s work spans painting and sculpture, but in Dettmer’s hands, those practices become relatively indistinct from one another. “During art school, I was painting photos and images that I’d found. But there was no reason the outcome needed to be a painting when it could just exist as a photo. So I started making sculptures of found objects or forms that didn’t exist — ones that I wished did. I’d then paint the sculptures that I couldn’t make.” This process allowed Dettmer to find a new painting language, which comes to life through his distinctive works. A reduced color palette of soft pastels marks his style, creating an aesthetic that is at times closely connected with design trends. He often finds the objects he recreates from $2 and discount stores, putting a twist on everyday items.
A yearlong residency at Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent studios gave Dettmer his first experience of what the life of an artist is like without the structure of art school. Housing numerous galleries and artist studios, the Convent was the perfect environment in which to kick-start his practice and he has since returned to exhibit there. These days Dettmer calls Collingwood’s Easy Street studios his creative home. The studio’s location means galleries, libraries and good coffee are never far away. He cycles in five days a week to make art and have fun while doing so.
Describe your most recent project and how it was made.
My last exhibition was a series of sculptures and paintings. I focused on everyday objects, looking to re-interpret them in terms of my practice and my favored aesthetic. Basically I remade the things around me in my own terms. A few of the sculptures were plaster casts of actual objects like bananas and beer cans along with a bunch of more abstract forms which were taken from various elements from our everyday.
I quite like this uncertainty within art; I don’t like for things to be too clear-cut or understood too easily as I feel it takes away from the mystery that art can offer which is what makes it interesting. The paintings for this show added another element as if these forms were being documented. Basically I want a show to feel as though it’s a presentation of a certain aesthetic. Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it.
My next project is another series of paintings; these are mostly based on real scenes and images. I’ve started sourcing a lot of imagery from the library around the corner from my house, which is filled with a lot of fantastically bad books. The library is great because it means you can find things your not looking for. With a lot of paintings I’ll think of an idea then find images or do drawings I can work from, but with the library the ideas and images come to me. It can be pretty exciting when you find an image you know could work, which usually means it’s funny, a little bit weird and aesthetically works with my style. With this series I’m working as if each paintings is a scene in some strange story. Each painting speaks for itself but when put together they work to explain some sort of absurd mystery.Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring you lately and why.
I’ve been looking at Alex Katz a lot lately. I’m a big fan of his style and it’s something I want to emulate to a degree. He takes away a lot of detail when painting and this absence creates really interesting and beautiful images. I was watching some interviews with him recently as well where he said something along the lines that of you have to paint six days a week for six hours a day and if you do that for twenty years then you can see if you’re a good painter or not. I often think about that if I’m feeling a bit lazy in the morning and it gets me into the studio. Show us your studio and tell us what you like about it.
The thing I like most about my studio is that it’s a five-minute walk from my house. Other than that it’s pretty basic. I don’t really want to be too comfortable in my studio otherwise I won’t get much done. It’s pretty much a table and chair, all my tools and materials, my easel and a high desktop to paint from.