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View from the Birth Day, Matthew Woodward at the Cultural Center

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Matthew Woodward
View from the Birth Day
Now through July 12, 2012 at the Chicago Cultural Center
contributing writer, Melissa Gumbs

Matthew Woodward’s exhibition View from the Birth Day is one of a series of shows running this summer at the Chicago Cultural Center. This is an ideal venue for the Chicagoan’s exhibit being that his works were created as part of the artist’s response to an art exhibition displayed nearly two years earlier in the same location. The original show, entitled Louis Sullivan’s Idea, celebrated the famed architect’s ideas and buildings. Woodward’s work is especially concerned with the decorative ornamentation that was central to Sullivan’s designs.

The gallery space sets a subdued tone for the exhibition by lowering the studio lights, drawing viewers in closer to the works and placing a focused emphasis on the large scale art tacked to the walls. Woodward utilizes reductive drawing techniques in his charcoal and graphite works creating strong visual contrast through erasing and removing darker values as well as building texture through his layering techniques. But the artist doesn’t stop there. He also rips, bends, and folds his work giving many of them sculptural qualities. While the majority of the works are completed solely in shades of gray, black, white, a few of the pieces have a hint or a brown ochre color which upon further examination is discovered to be coffee. Those select areas of color have an effect of warming up the show and were a keen addition to the constructed layers.

The centerpiece of the show is three similar-looking pieces entitled Sullivan Installation which fill an entire gallery wall. Completed in 2012, the works are still attached to the roll paper they were made on, ending in a small coil of white upon the floor. In the gentle curve of paper joining the wall to the floor is a collection of pencil shavings and charcoal scraps, creating an appearance that the artist just completed the work moments before.

The final wall consists of studies the artist created while working on the large pieces. Done on a variety of papers, it is fascinating to examine the various experimental approaches and materials Woodward played with during the art making process.

It is wonderful to see a return to a classical drawing approach especially coupled with the quintessential ornamentation and decoration associated with the work of architect Louis Sullivan. This is a uniquely Chicago exhibition in many ways. Created by a local artist, it was inspired by a Chicago Cultural Center show about a Chicago architect and the works, many of which are named after city streets, are being displayed in their place of inspiration. Take time and stop in and see the show before it closes; these works need to be seen in person and more importantly in the city that inspired them.

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