ARTS & COLLECTIBLES
ELEVATING THE EVERYDAY
American painter Matthew Bird manipulates ethereal watercolor pigments to capture moments in time and has used the challenges posed by the recent pandemic to re-discover everyday beauty.
Matthew Bird knew from a young age that he was destined to be an artist—and his experiences visiting museums and galleries with his parents as a child were formative years, exposing him to the work of masters, such as Jan Davidszoon de Heem, Pieter Claesz, and William Bouguereau. However, it wasn’t until he began experimenting after graduating from the Pratt Institute of Art in Brooklyn, New York, that he discovered the watercolor paints that would come to define his work.
“I fell in love with the pigments when they mixed together on the paper into wet washes,” he explains. “Watercolor has a mind of its own, and it does what it wants, so for my detailed style of realism, it’s an intricate dance to get it to do what I want.”
Today, Bird’s body of work is diverse, encompassing portraits, still lives, and street scenes, focusing on traditional artistic themes executed with strikingly contemporary techniques. His award-winning work has been exhibited across the United States, Canada, China, Greece, Hong Kong, and Italy. Each piece draws the viewer into the artist’s world through a signature use of rich, vivid color and chiaroscuro—a strong contrast between light and dark—that is more often associated with oil paintings.
Spring, 30 x 22 in (76 x 56 cm), Watercolor on paper
Once Upon A Time, Watercolor on paper, 41” x 29.5” (104 x 75 cm)
“As a realist painter, I’m communicating through the universal language of representational art,” he explains. “It’s my hope that viewers are drawn into deeper reflection about the subjects and that they bring their own narratives.”
Also running through his work is a desire to elevate the every day—to capture a person’s soul in his portraiture or to reveal often-overlooked beauty in still-life works. Take, Farewell to the Beach, a portrait of a young girl sitting in the sand by the water’s edge in which each brushstroke evokes a palpable nostalgia for the childlike desire to eek the last moments out of a day spent at the beach. Another example is his artfully composed still-life arrangement of beer and pretzels, in which you can almost feel the rough texture of the hessian covering a jar of olives and the doughiness of the pretzels.
“Still life painting allows me the freedom to explore different textures and objects that I don’t normally find in my figurative work,” says Bird. “Sometimes an entire still life is composed around an intriguing texture that has sparked my imagination—something that I have never painted before but looks like a fun challenge. The way light plays on different surfaces is endlessly fascinating to me.”
In contrast, Bird’s street scenes are serendipitous moments in time—what he describes as “catching someone at the perfect moment.” This could be a flower merchant lost in the art of arranging a bouquet, an elderly saxophone player busking on the street with the rapt attention of a young boy, or simply a man Once Upon A Time, Watercolor on paper, 41” x 29.5” (104 x 75 cm) waiting for a bus.
NOLA Beetle 22” x 30” (55 x 76cm), Watercolor on paper
Preparation 29 x 29 in. (40 x 40 in. framed), Watercolor on paper, on ACM panel
Traveling for both commissions and teaching workshops has been a constant source of inspiration throughout his career, and the recent pandemic has been particularly challenging. In response, Bird overhauled his studio and began to broadcast workshops online. Lockdowns also posed creative challenges, forcing the artist to look at objects surrounding him rather than running out to the market for fresh flowers or searching through an antique store.
“My first ‘isolation creation’ was a watercolor of a dandelion that I dug up from the backyard,” he recalls. “I did a lovely little painting of what many consider a weed. It reaffirmed my belief that beauty can be found everywhere if you take the time to look for it. No matter how grand or humble, Paintings are inherently significant as human expressions of what is praiseworthy.”