Peter Matthews is an artist reverting to a primordial relationship with our ocean. His practice is not just about recording this blue planet, but living it. Experiencing the complete greatness of its being. The paintings and drawings that emerge are the relics of an ancient bond. Reminding us that there is so much we do not know about our ocean. So much that is intangible, and unreachable with words and logic alone. His art connects us to the awe that inspired ancient civilizations to worship the ocean and beckons us to find that same force within ourselves.
1. The ocean is a defining force in your art practice, when did you discover your love for it?
I feel that I have always had loving, romantic feelings towards the ocean, and every time I with it, that bond and sense of partnership deepens. I will always remember those early childhood encounters with the ocean, and they will always stir me inside.
2. You describe your process of working in solitude submerged in the ocean as “defined and informed by the poetic blending of rituals, dreams, the spirit world, chanting, intuition, superstition, the paranormal, and the diversity of fringe and earth sciences, while moving and responding to what is happening in our contemporary world.” How do these days unfold for you? Where are you mentally, and spiritually while making art?
I feel I am everywhere and nowhere. After all, for me, I feel we are always where we are not. I was recently drawing in the Atlantic Ocean in England, and while drawing what I could see and observe, I was sure I could hear the echo, and taste, of the Pacific Ocean at the same time. Being in, and with, the ocean allows us to peer into, over, and straddle multiple dimensions of time and place. In my work as an artist, I seek to reveal, and make visual, those mystical truths that shape and form our world, both inner and outer, physical and metaphysical.
3. How is it that you can make art while submerged in water? Does this require you to use specialized materials?
I was always interested in making drawings where they hadn’t been made before. Inspired and motivated to see what a drawing could bring back from the raw human experience of being embodied and immersed in the watery cradle of the ocean. I use gel pens on paper when I draw in the water, but there is a lot which draws itself into the drawing from the ever-changing medium of the environment, such as rain, sunshine, saltwater, and air…
4. Your final pieces are mostly abstract, what is it that you are painting and drawing while you are in nature? Once you have finished a piece, what does it signify in relation to the experience which you had?
When I paint along the coast, alone for days, I feel that an organic, abstract language seems most natural to capture the human experience of being with nature. So much of what I paint it instinctive. There is no aesthetic in mind, no visual composition I am heading towards. The colors and marks ebb and flow from a place inside, where I am in a live dialogue with nature. I am interested in the kinaesthetic and synaesthetic elements and pathways which enliven when painting alone in nature.
5. In your piece “The End is Where They Start From” you are seen interacting with your paintings in a multiplicity of ways, such as sitting on top of them, sitting with them around a fire, and carrying them through a desert to reach the ocean. In a way, you are living with your paintings as much as making them. What do these kinds of lived art-making experiences represent for you? How do you feel your art is changed by making it in nature versus in a studio?
I feel that a painting must be alive. It comes into this world from somewhere, and I am fascinated by the odyssey each painting embarks on. I never paint or draw in the studio, it all happens organically outside, along the coast, in the wild elements. There is a symbiosis I feel with each painting. As I give the painting an abstract language of color and mark, it shelters me from the rain or sun. I am always in conversation with the painting. There is always a live dialogue between us, perhaps self-maddening at times, but always there. We lead each other, we heal each other. We live and learn, love and walk, through life together. It just feels right, to have the painting draped over me beside a driftwood fire watching a gibbous moon in the twilight over the open ocean. Just being. Being alive, being aware, being all that we can and trusting in one another. There are a lot of rituals yes. In the most lucid moments, the paintings are like magic carpets, where one can ascend on an astral voyage, where everything makes sense, where everything is so beautifully, beautifully clear.
6. How do you think art can change the relationship people have to the ocean? How has making art by the ocean changed your relationship to it?
For me, art, like silence and like beauty, is so tremendously valuable, especially in our modern lives. Art gives us two beautiful, simple gifts. Firstly, it gives us a way to frame and visualize our world, to make sense of it and communicate our human emotions, which are innate and ever-burning as human beings. Secondly, art gives us a window through which to see ourselves, to see our place in the world. Art gives us that bond to observe, feel, connect, reflect, and experience. Art gives us sensitivity. We care and protect what we love, and I feel art makes that align and pulse.
To see, and experience, more of Peter Matthews work, explore the links below.
Author: Carola Dixon