Howard House, Seattle, WA
by Richard Speer
In Postwar Landscape, An Urban History, Matthew Picton layered cartographic imagery to chart the evolution, destruction, and rebuilding of contested cities and regions throughout the world. The London-born artist departed from the organicism of the land-art traditions that informed earlier work in favor of a cooler, more minimalist tack. His strategy was most accessible in the wall hanging Berlin Text Work #2 (1943, 1962, 2007), in which three sheets of clear Duralar were etched with street names and landmarks from three political eras, allowing viewers to peer through history with a kind of temporal X-ray vision. Close inspection revealed telling changes in nomenclature: Adolf Hitler Platz was renamed Reichkanzlplatz after the War, while Frankfurter Allee became Stalin Allee, which became Karl Marx Allee.
In the striking 16’x10’ Hiroshima 1930, intricately configured paper sculptures, representing city blocks, rise from light boxes. The silvery-white glow emanating from the piece imparted a hushed serenity, all the more poignant in light of the destruction wrought on the city in 1945. In Picton’s historical survey of Israel, an ironical dissonance emerged between the bitter political and religious demarcations slicing through the region and the cheery, glam-rock purples, yellows, acid greens, and reds with which the artist depicted them.
With virtuosic invention and obsessive attention to detail, Picton deployed several other materials and methods to elaborate his theme. The burned-paper Washington, D.C. sullied the city’s stringent grid with rusty oxidation. The meticulously cut Duralar of Moscow, 1808, 1905, 2007 resembled spiderwebs, their spindly ends trailing off, open-ended, like history itself.
The artist has long deployed fastidious tracing and casting techniques to document and transliterate the vicissitudes of landscape. In the current body of work, however, he portrayed the land as a static backdrop for the constructive and destructive impulses of human civilization. With a formalist’s neutrality, Picton let the lines and curves, boulevards and snaking walls, tell their own stories, leaving interpretation to the viewer.
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