Fan Mail: Matthew Woodward

For this edition of Fan Mail, Chicago-based artist Matthew Wooward has been selected from a group of worthy submissions. If you would like to be considered, please submit to a link to your website with ‘Fan Mail’ in the subject line. Two artists are featured each month—the next one could be you!

Matthew Woodward. "Western Avenue," 2011. Graphite on paper. 80 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the Artist.

“Architecture in the United States” was one of the most memorable courses I took as an undergraduate. It was not only because I adored the professor and his incredible passion for the subject; it fundamentally changed the way I interact with and respond to the urban landscape. While I can no longer recite the date Mies van der Rohe designed the Seagram Building or the ways John Ruskin left his mark on American architecture, I do find myself inclined to inspect the intricacies of my environment, caught adrift as people dash by without a glance.

It is clear that Matthew Woodward is similarly taken with the intricacies of structure and place. In his most recent body of work, he creates alluring large-scale drawings of architectural ornaments he has spotted wandering through various cities, isolating them from the buildings they previously punctuated.

Matthew Woodward. "Milwaukee Avenue II Series," 2011. Graphite on paper. 25 feet x 9 feet. Courtesy of the Artist.

Matthew Woodward. "Milwaukee Avenue II Series," 2011. Graphite and adhesive on paper. 25 x 9 feet. Courtesy of the Artist.

Woodward describes his process as a variation on classical reductive drawing. In essence, he covers the paper’s surface with graphite powder and then produces the desired imagery – a precise and unedited representation resulting from innumerable photographs and careful measurement – through meticulous erasure. His articulation of this approach sounds sculptural, mimicking the fabrication of the adornments he represents. Woodward explains, “most of the time what will happen is that the graphite will get in [the paper] and it doesn’t want to come off again. I have to tear it and sand it and rip the paper in order to carve it back out.” As the paper faithfully records every action taken, documenting every deconstruction and reconstruction of the surface, it evokes both the three-dimensional qualities of its referent object and traces its own history as a two-dimensional representation.

By isolating these architectural embellishments from their previous context – and presenting them in a size that physically confronts the body – Woodward forces the viewer to call upon on his or her own associations with these forms. These seemingly hollow ciphers elicit distinctly different responses depending on one’s relationship to place, space and time.  Looking at these drawings, I am overcome by reverence, nostalgia and loss. I view these objects as emblems of an era and sensibility long past, as tangible evidence of obsolescence. Through its ability to conjure such emotions and considerations, the work transcends representation alone, engaging perennial issues such as the role of memory, history and place in shaping experience.

Matthew Woodward. "Medill Street," 2011. Graphite and adhesive on paper. 66 x 88 inches. Courtesy of the Artist.

Woodward’s drawings are currently featured in two exhibitions. “Matt Woodward: The Tremendous Alone” is on view now at the Elmhurst Art Museum in Elmherst, Illinois through December 30th. His work is also included in the group exhibition “Ways of Making: Work on Paper” at Governors State University’s Visual Arts Gallery in University Park, Illinois through November 11th.