|PHOTO BY RIN K
Magnet â€“ the Castro home for health and well being services for gay/bi men â€“ is currently displaying the art work of Matt Pipes, the â€śSoul Bearersâ€ť series, inspired by an art project sponsored by Visual Aid called â€śAfterlife,â€ť in which artists were asked to present their views on death and dying. Pipes chose the raven, because it is a symbol of shamanism and considered to be the carrier of the soul in many cultures. â€śAs I began working on the imagery, I began to see the raven as a metaphor for transformation in my own life, as well as an agent for dealing with loss,â€ť Pipes said.
Pipes studied environmental sciences and printmaking in Olympia, Washington at the Evergreen State College. He started doing free-lance illustration work and had a weekly cartoon in a local newspaper. After college he wanted to find a more active gay scene than Olympia had to offer and moved to Portland and then to San Francisco in 1995.
He said he has always enjoyed drawing, especially line drawing. In college he was doing a lot of pen and ink style illustration and thought that would be the direction he would go, â€śuntil I got bit by the printmaking bug and realized I really loved the process of plate making.â€ť In 2003 he quit his banking job, realizing he needed to get back to taking art seriously, eventually landing a job at a fine art printmaking workshop, and for a while lived in an artist warehouse in Oakland.
His sculptures are astounding to behold. The medium is a clear acrylic resin that he casts in layers. Some of the layers are mixed with mica to give its shimmering glazed ceramic look. On other layers he paints solvent washes using lithography ink and solvent mixed with pigment. He layers the washes on top of each other and on top of parts of the painted figures to create depth, using it as a metaphor for things fading into the background, â€śor sort of like nothing lasts forever.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s a really addictive medium to use because it allows you to create work where each layer has a little bit of clear space in between, which allows light in and creates all kinds of color shifts and shadows depending on the light,â€ť he told Bay Times. â€śItâ€™s kind of amazing to be able to break an image that is essentially a flat drawing out into three dimensions that way.â€ť
He said it is a hybrid technique that is heavily influenced by some of the artists who work on projects where he works, mixed with his own personal aesthetic. First he builds a cradled wooden panel and paints the front pearlescent white; then he paints areas of bright color â€śthat I want to peekaboo through the other layers.â€ť Next he wraps the panel in high strength duct tape to create a dam and pours a thick layer of resin mixed with mica, thus creating a marbled kind of organic pearly layer, helping to obfuscate the layer of color. Then he does a layer of solvent washes, a layer of painting, another layer of washes to obfuscate the painting, a layer of painting to obfuscate the solvent washes, and then finally a layer of dots that are usually varnish tinted with metallic pigment. The last layer is just a clear coat to even everything out.
His personal philosophy is two-fold: 1) We are all beings based on energy, and that energy is eternal but always changes form, and 2) try to enjoy every moment as much as possible for what it is, because - good or bad - it is fleeting and will change.
This particular series, â€śThe Soul Bearers,â€ť is about personal transformation. In this series the raven becomes merged with a figure who is desperate to find a conduit of change, from a place of unfulfilled desire to a place of acceptance and peace.
â€śI think of the work as meditative, and I hope that it is seen that way by other people,â€ť he said. â€śI guess I would like it to say that things have a way of working out and that each step of the process, while sometimes painful is important to go through.â€ť
His favorite piece is the small one, â€śShaman.â€ť â€śI like it because, well I guess because I like the colors and it was the piece that I didnâ€™t have to fight with,â€ť he elaborated. â€śIt kind of came together all on its own.â€ť He also likes the â€śThunderbirdâ€ť piece, but for the opposite reason. â€śIt kept refusing to come together and seemed to be thwarting my attempts to resolve it; and then I either gave up fighting or it did; Iâ€™m not sure which.â€ť
I especially wanted to know about the large double centerpiece. â€śI canâ€™t believe that one came together. That piece started as kind of a dream about the shape and the clouds of ravens,â€ť he told me. â€śI wanted all these ravens to be in this kind of foggy, hazy space in this cloud-shaped panel. I also wanted to have this figure who was becoming one with the ravens and also a shadowy figure that sort of appeared in a mist, like a dream or memory.â€ť It was another piece he said he had a hard time resolving, because the shape doesnâ€™t lend itself very easily to composition. â€śI lucked out in seeing a photograph of this reclining male that I scaled up in a drawing to be life sized. Making the piece was kind of a comedy of errors at first, so I was really happy when it all came together.â€ť
â€śMagnet is doing a lot of great things in the community, and it is quite and honor and privilege to have the opportunity to exhibit art there,â€ť he said. â€śThey have made it such a great experience for me.â€ť You too can experience this with Pipesâ€™ works on display throughout February.