Eli Matson is a rising fine artist who has recently finished his undergraduate degree in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design. He is currently exploring two main themes: Gun Culture, and the Masculine Identity. There isn’t much written about this up in coming artist, but after meeting Matson at his Atlanta home earlier this year, I realized the content of his work is a must know.
Matson first started with exploring the concepts of masculinity through mixed media and painting, along with his studies in photography. This body of work is a collection of his personal experience, research, and observation in our culture regarding to masculine identity through the decades.
In his paintings, Matson builds texture through layers of construction and mechanic materials (such as tar, plaster, polyurethane, gunpowder, and vehicle fluids like anti-freeze) which are used in “manly” occupations, which typically has been blue-collar work. Matson takes these, often hazardous, materials and experiments with them as a traditional artist experiments with his, or her, paint. He plays with the contrast, color, and texture, which result in abstracted forms and figures of landscapes and terrain. When looking at these abstracted figures, one could see terrain similar to the aerial view of Earth’s surface, or more like Mars’ surface to be exact. Other abstractions and interpretations show of decimated Mountain ranges and toxic environments once teeming with life. Other works have been more of a literal interpretation to the content of his work. Much of these materials are fragile, degenerative, and destructive, much like the human ego and the frailty of masculinity (one may argue).
In the _______hood exhibition, there is one diptych piece to contrast from the abstract paintings to give a more literal, and “crisper” message to tie the conversation together. In this piece, is an illustration of decimated cities and once living spaces, with a sole survivor in the foreground. In my meeting with him at his studio, I asked about the influences of his work and he had shared with me personal stories of his relationships with other males in his upbringing.
The concept of “What makes a man a man?” has been challenged for some time. In 2011, Dr. Joanne H. Hall and Kelly Carlson from the University of Tennessee published an article titled “Exploring the concept of Manliness in Relation to the Phenomenon of Crying: A Bourdieusian Approach” exploring the concepts and history of manliness as a social construct. This study was made with the intention of developing a theoretical approach for men’s mental health in the nursing community. On August 23rd, 2016, Ted Talks published a video on YouTube featuring Tony Porter’s talk on manhood. On this perspective, Porter talks on an experience both Matson and myself believe most males in “heteronormative” habitats have experienced. The social construct has even been mention in biblical text and the social construct can be traced back to ancient Latin word “Virtus”, which means to display valor, strength, excellence, courage, worth, and manliness; all commonly associated with masculine attributes.
In one perspective, Manliness and the things that define a man are rooted from the idea of being strong and victorious when in conflict. The idea of strength could be, and has been, interpreted as being able to take the most damage and survive, or to deal the most damage, if not do both. One’s manliness could be determined from by the extent that individual could do either of those options. In applications to this concepts, males are put in positions where they often are discouraged from showing vulnerability, susceptibility and being able to share their feelings in stressful situations. These can result in mental health issues, acts of violence, and damaged self-esteem if not addressed. Both Matson and I shared our personal struggles with masculinity and pressures we faced to keep our own self-identity when it came to “being a man”. In Matson’s work these blue-collar jobs, and the dangers they hold, reflect the perspective of being manly by enduring the damage those occupations wager. Matson’s work explores the frailty of the masculine ego and the destructive nature that has been formed to prove an individual’s Virtus.
I wanted Matson’s work in _______hood as it relates to a big issue that is occasionally talked about. What makes a man? Many males attached the self-esteem, status, and well-being to the virtus attributes. Once those are challenged, their egos usually are then driven to defend themselves and the masculine mask they carry. In this exhibition of Rite of passage, What better way to address an issues that starts as early as pre-teenage childhood and can last to the rest of an individual’s life?