James Matson at WLC
At least two decades ago, I shared studio space with Jim Matson (jamesmatsonart.com) in the Snow White building in Walker’s Point. It had a leaky roof, so we labored beneath sheets of plastic strung overhead. Matson’s studio faced south.
The next studio space I shared with him was on the top floor of The Fortress in Brewer’s Hill. Again, his studio faced south with a view of the city beyond. When he was teaching figurative sculpture and 3-D design at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (1984-1996), I bought a wooden sculpture from him. Shaped like a clock, he told me it was in memory of his brother’s liver transplant. Later I donated the work to MIAD, but it seems to have disappeared, as if by magic, into a time warp.
He was talented two decades ago. He’s a fully mature artist in 2011, and incidentally, he lives in a fine old home west of the Snow White building…but no longer has to work under sheets of plastic. Beginning Friday, Matson ( a professor of Ceramics and Sculpture at Wisconsin Lutheran College) unveils work completed since his 2009 sabbatical. I see from recent images that he’s still using the shape of a mantle clock, specifically in his wall reliefs. He claims (ironically) that he makes objects to escape from a world filled with objects.
The magic happens on floor two in the Schlueter Art Gallery, in the Center for Arts and Performing at Wisconsin Lutheran College. Matson comes by conjuring naturally; his parents had a vaudeville act known as “The Magic Matsons,” and he assisted now and then. They lived out in the sticks near Delavan. He still has their vaudeville chest.
They speak both of Creationism and the Big Bang Theory. They reveal maps, including one from Milwaukee set on the shores of Lake Michigan. Had I entered a series of small theaters — rich with art history, magic wands and wandering magicians — where anything is possible? Matson’s sure, steady hand (and eyes) neatly avoids the swamp of sugary sentimentality. He’s a smart navigator.
In the center of the gallery are a set of figurative sculptures, signifying Everyman. Their broad feet planted firmly, a few, surrounded by smaller figures, rise beyond life-sized. The mark of the artist is in their heavily textured skin — hand built, fired and superbly glazed, each embodies a distinct personality. Surrounded by the magic icons, could they be the audience waiting for solutions to life’s problems?
Enter here to be bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. This stellar exhibition begins on April Fools Day, Friday from 6-8 p.m. Shazaam.
Jim Matson: Sabbatical is open April 1- May 20 in the Schlueter Art Gallery, 8815 W. Wisconsin Avenue. For more information, click here.