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Melissa Matthews’ exhibition Frustration POS opened on February 15. It is the first time she is presenting her artworks in Trinidad. The 28-year-old artist was born in New York to Trinidadian parents and has spent her time between the USA and the Caribbean. In 2007 she earned her bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from Howard University in Washington, DC. She has exhibited in both group and solo shows in the US, displaying works of art that have largely dealt with issues affecting women. She often makes visual statements by combining acrylic paint with found materials. Her latest exhibit, however, is different.
Matthew uses digital means to create abstract expressions of the frustration she experienced while staying in Woodbrook, Port-of-Spain, during a trip to Trinidad in 2012. She explains: “I was staying with my sister, my niece and my sister’s boyfriend in a tiny apartment on Ariapita Avenue. I was also working on some projects and I had not been paid. That was one of the most frustrating times. The artworks are born out of being in that tight space.” Both physical and financial constraints would influence the production of 40 pieces of art. The exhibition features 16 of those works.
Like the North American abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, who is noted for his dynamic lines made in a process of dripping paint on canvas, line is a dominant element in many of Matthews’ pieces. “Line can be very representative of chaos and obstruction,” says Matthews. Her pieces are created with paint of a different kind: she uses the computer software Paint.
Exploring exasperation, discontent
Using her netbook—a device with which she always travels—the artist set about exploring feelings of exasperation and discontent in visual terms. Some pieces are entirely digital paintings, where everything has been created via the computer. Other works are collages, with Matthews printing segments of work done on the computer onto film. She sticks the film segments together so that the composition is an arrangement of several different layers. She then works on top of the layers, without the computer, adding details with pen and ink so that her hand becomes more perceptible in the creative process. “I am very tactile. I like things to have that touch,” she says.
The exhibition is not only about her internal struggles and feelings. It is also about frustration she observes in the wider physical and political landscape around her. Matthews has worked with Sustain T&T, a group dedicated to education about sustainable and green living. Environmental issues are a concern for her. “While I was in Trinidad last year there was a lot of flooding and I knew people who were affected. National Security Minister Jack Warner called it an act of God. Yet there are things we can do to prevent flooding,” says Matthews. Art pieces with such titles as Act of God and Wettin’ and More Wettin’ speak directly to the flooding incident.
Other pieces, like the painting called Rebuilt, address both internal and external dissatisfaction: “I was at a point in my life where I was trying to rebuild things but I was feeling like I was making two steps forward and several steps back. “The idea of rebuilding is also linked to politics. When the Government says things are finished you can still see cracks and holes in what they have built.” Many of her artworks appear to be satellite images or maps so that what Matthews presents is a bold topography of the features of stress, pressure and frustration. Through her exploration of these emotions, the artist teases out their depths and makes their complexity visible.
Rather than the conventional art gallery, her work is displayed at the Woodbrook office space of CSR Solutions Ltd, a company providing answers to companies wanting to move forward in socially responsible and sustainable ways. It is a viewing context that adds a dimension of meaning to artworks that point to the challenges that come with efforts at progress—whether as an individual, corporate entity or as a community of people—and the creative means of confronting them. Matthews’ exhibition runs through March 30. Viewing is by appointment only.
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