Christy Matson: Both Sides Now

Opening: Friday, Apr 12, 2024 5 – 8 pm
Friday, Apr 12 – Jun 1, 2024

1709 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622




Across a suite of new works featuring the artist’s woven compositions of painted paper, Matson’s geometric abstractions allude to the history of the use of textile as a storytelling device. At once suggestive of either vast landscapes or closely observable patterns in nature—like the silhouette of mountains visible from a distance, or pebbles magnified under the clear glass surface of a slow flowing stream—the artist’s cellular and organic forms exact a realm where macro and micro phenomena coalesce. Through a material-forward and process-oriented approach, the colored lines of the artist’s handwoven tapestries are intertwined with that of the blank warp, resulting in optically mixed desaturated fields. The artist’s palette, muted hues of dusty blue, faint apricot, and warm earthen tones, adopt the influence of the Los Angeles-based artist’s immersion in Southern Californian light—bleached out apparitions weft into the structure of the image itself.

The simplicity of Matson’s geometries are redolent with familiarity yet remain indistinct, a tension created by the relationship of each form in proximity to the next, which either reinforces or dissolves the picture plane. Beginning with delicately drawn studies in oil pastel, characteristic gestures where certain gaps in the toothed texture of the paper are left uncovered by the artist’s hand, Matson translates these images through an intricate system of codes manually programmed onto a Jacquard loom. Together, the sequences of binary code and the pastel sketches act as a type of preparatory drawing that serves to map the final (doubly wrought) work on paper: hand-painted rolls of flat paper ‘string’ in place of the skeins of yarn conventionally associated with weaving. Performing this highly specified method to create each piece, Matson interacts with a language lost to industrialization while developing new vocabularies.

Aside from form, color is the primary marker that signifies Matson’s references—in Sunrise Moonrise (2023), a pale-yellow half circle touches an inverted swath of deep brown to establish a horizon reminiscent of land and sky, though if the form represents a coming day or night is left ambiguous. The artist’s interrelated compositions rarely lead viewers to a place of pure abstraction, instead maintaining discernable patterns amid their geometry. In Fiddlehead (2023), curving lines of lavender and tan encircle the top left of the woven image against passages of verdant greens. Indicative of the growth pattern of the fern species referenced in the title, one of the most well-known manifestations of fractals that can be found in nature, the implications geometry holds within Matson’s work relates to theories of self-similarity—recurring forms in which each component exists as a reduced-scale replica of the entire pattern. The earliest examples of these mathematical illustrations were created by artists in ancient civilizations, far before Euclidean geometry could prove their complex symmetries. While the discovery of these patterns, now known as wallpaper groups, occurred across remote continents—the tessellations and tapestries of interlocking forms arising from Mesopotamia to Japan—the human desire to transpose universal models found in nature find their lineage in textile.

Employing the same technique across each composition, Matson collapses the image and its substrate, which allows representation to manifest through the pattern’s physical construction. The images within her work are built through personal, as much as collective, memory. “There is comfort in looking back in history and seeing yourself in someone’s dream,” says Matson. Similarly, the relationship to language that the roots of textile possess—the term textilis in Latin refers to letters woven together—are furthered in Matson’s work, such as in the ‘scroll’ depicted in the fern’s stage of unfurling in Fiddlehead, among other references. The East Put Out a Single Flag (2023) similarly nods to text, lifted from a line in Emily Dickinson’s poem A drop fell on the apple tree, which lithely personifies the correspondence of different forces in nature. Featuring the recurring shape of the yellow sun-moon, quilted forms of cool-toned color appear patched upon the warm ground. Suggestive of an aerial view, this semi-flattened perspective is mirrored in Hills End (2023), the most formally restricted work on view in the exhibition.

As the title of the exhibition infers, a reference to Joni Mitchell’s eponymous song Both Sides Now, the attribution of meaning is a question of relative perception, of what side you are looking from. For example, the difference in seeing clouds while standing on the grass or from the window of an airplane. Or how we identify with causes in moments of crisis. Sometimes we have the benefit of perspective, though we often don’t. Place is everything. In navigating where we stand, the expression of metaphor finds reflection in nature: the sunrise climbs over the water on the east coast, while sun sets into water in the west. While reversed, both experiences are true. If your flight leaves from Chicago to Los Angeles at the right time, you will experience the longest sunset—perpetually glinting, as if the plane were threading itself across the weft of a glowing loom from one side to the next.

By Stephanie Cristello


Christy Matson lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Recent solo exhibitions include Philip Martin Gallery, Rebecca Camacho Presents, The Milwaukee Art Museum, Cranbrook Art Museum, which featured a special commission for the US Art in Embassies Program, and the Long Beach Museum of Art. Her work has been in dozens of group exhibitions including the Bakersfield Museum of Art, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum, the Craft and Folk Art Museum Los Angeles, the Asheville Art Museum, and The Knoxville Museum of Art. Matson’s work is in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cranbrook Art Museum, The Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art’s Renwick Gallery. In 2012 Matson was tenured and appointed as Associate Professor of Fiber and Material Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.