What's wrong with little pieces, love and understanding?

Tiny and terrifying, Matt Boland’s pieces are “dwarfed by pedestals,” but strike fear in our hearts.
Tiny and terrifying, Matt Boland’s pieces are “dwarfed by pedestals,” but strike fear in our hearts.

Matt Boland thought he was the shit. Then he went to grad school. “I got my ass kicked,” he says. His professors dismantled him, his assumptions about what people wanted, his ideas about the world.

He remembers spending hours painstakingly forming and firing a piece from clay, putting it on display and waiting. “I made things that I thought would speak to people,” he says. The people would walk by, pause for a moment, “they’d go, ‘Huh, alright,’” and move on.

At some point, just before flunking out, he stopped making work that tried to speak to people and started making work that “would expose myself.” It helped. He now makes work that almost exclusively exposes itself: strange, scary, gangly-limbed humanoids in Chuck Taylors and whitey-tighties. Lots of exposed skin. Immediately noticeable, though: opaque white masks that completely cover the face.

His new show is called “Nearly Nude.” It could just as easily be called “Completely Covered Up.” The characters bear it all, but don’t reveal much.

This is a key to the chills they give. They’re repulsive on one level and comical on another. You can’t really stand to look at them, but it’s hard to turn away.

We see this in life, or at least on TV. The scariest and most fascinating event in our recent pop culture wasn’t the Casey Anthony Murder trial or even Anthony Weiner’s half-stock-in-boxer-shorts. It was Charlie Sheen, defiant but emotionally bare, going very publicly insane.

It points to a particular societal fear. We’ll bear our breasts before we’ll bear our psyches. The question Matt Boland asks is a fundamental one. We can look at the tags on our shirts to find out who is clothing our bodies, but who are the tailors of our souls?

We are, Boland thinks, and so is everyone else. The personae we build are beaten on by the world, torn at by other people’s reactions to them and by our own reactions to their reactions.

The best you can hope for is finding the right equilibrium. This doesn’t always mean conformity. Matt Boland’s work got weirder in grad school, not less so.

Like many of his clay people, Boland mostly wears his boyish face in a smile that looks a little pained. This cycle doesn’t end, he says. The best we can do, is keep

asking, “As we fall apart, do we put ourselves back together correctly?”

“Nearly Nude” • Aug. 4-27 • Artists’ reception: Fri, Aug. 5, 5-8 pm • Saranac Gallery • 25 W. Main Ave.

Follow the River: Portraits of the Columbia Plateau @ Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art WSU

Mondays-Saturdays. Continues through Aug. 14
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About The Author

Luke Baumgarten

Luke Baumgarten is commentary contributor and former culture editor of the Inlander. He is a creative strategist at Seven2 and co-founder of Terrain.