Brown on Matushevitz December 09, 2017 07:39

RANDI MATUSHEVITZ: Expressive Intensity 


Man screams from the depths of his soul; the whole era becomes a single, piercing shriek. Art also screams, into the deep darkness, screams for help, screams for the spirit. This is Expressionism. 

~Hermann Bahr 


Austrian art critic and playwright Hermann Bahr (1863-1934) was one of the first to write about the cultural movement he termed Expressionism. Bahr did so in the early decades of the twentieth century, during the rise of Fascism. Today, Los Angeles artist Randi Matushevitz deploys expressionism to respond to parallel cultural developments: the pervasive sexism, blatant racism, violent homophobia, and rampant white suprematism of our current era. 

The early Expressionists introduced exaggerated and distorted forms; intense, non-local color; and adamant, sometimes harsh brushwork in order to convey their emotional response to the horrors of their time. Matushevitz reinterprets these expressive devices to create dynamic compositions of humans and resonant symbols floating in dark, churning worlds. 

Because the early Expressionists like Ernest Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff rejected academic standards of idealized anatomy and illusionistic space, the Nazis labeled them "degenerate." They destroyed hundreds of Expressionist artworks, then tortured and imprisoned several of the artists. A century later, although Matushevitz's paintings can be seen as "offsprings" of the European Expressionists, it's unlikely she will be thrown in jail because of her work. Instead, we recognize her as part of the honorable lineage that started with the Europeans, morphed into the work of Jackson Pollock and his AbEx entourage, then climaxed in the late twentieth century with Jean Michel Basquiat. 

German Expressionist Max Beckman wrote, "Art is creative for the sake of realization, not for amusement: for transfiguration, not for the sake of play. It is the quest of our self that drives us along the eternal and never-ending journey we must all make." Matushevitz's oeuvre gives voice to that same journey, as it embodies and reveals the human condition, our quest for connectivity, and the pain we all suffer in this earthly existence. 

She conveys that embodiment through fierce ghostly figures that scowl and howl and dream, their faces declaring the intensity of their experience in sardonic contortions. Black lines snake around a cheek. A white ear is transformed into a pointed horn. Heavy black feet are anchored by uneasy red contours. A dense leaden sky looms heavy over a fractured landscape. Circular discs of color and texture shower down onto denuded fields. A tiny human sinks into a well. (He recalls some of the miniature figures anguishing in the torments of Hieronymous Bosch's hell.) 

Matushevitz addresses the troubling destruction of our natural environment, depicting a realm more akin to a zombie apocalypse than our flesh and blood domain. The only lights are uneasy windows of Day-Glo chartreuse, the only brilliance a sickly fluorescent orange. The artist's dystopian perspective is not "pretty" but it is impressively powerful. She performs artistic alchemy, allowing her intensely rendered marks to fuse with darkness and light in order to express the very nature of existence. Under all the expressive--sometimes even assaulting--distortions, there remains enduring hope: hope that we will survive, that we will continue to seek connectivity, and that creativity is the best path to do so.  

As Indian author Vikram Roy reminds us, "Art is not about beauty, art is an expression." Yet within all the intense expression of Randi Matushevitz's works lies the beauty of the human condition. 


Betty Ann Brown 

Pasadena 2017