I met Mathew Tom’s artwork several years before their creator. My best friend and I were traveling to London to visit another dear friend and talented artist, Radhika Agarwala. Mathew and Radhika were both students in Goldsmiths’ MFA program. We arrived the night of a graduate exhibition opening. While walking around the vast graduate studio space, I was immediately impressed with Mathew’s artwork. I admired how the artist softened the masculinity of his subjects and the delicacy of its composition; it gave me the impression that the sitter could be none other than an intimate friend.

In the picture below, I stand before one of Tom’s paintings from the MFA exhibition eight years ago. The initial series of monochromatic portraits juxtaposed with soft pink hues marked the beginning of his current track as a contemporary artist living and working in New York City; Tom defined his painting style – strong use of shading, concentrated color palettes, and smooth contours.

Me in front of Mathew Tom’s portrait of Devendra Banhart, 2010. Photograph by Cristina Molina.

Tom’s recent exhibition, Pure Land at the Christine Park Gallery combined his early interest in simplicity with his renewed curiosity in its ability to foster harmony. The artist’s belief in paintings magical ability to transcend religion, language, and traditions is evident through Pure Land. The paintings’ subjects are distilled to their simplest state to create a sense of peace; but in doing so, they also become democratic. The subjects are presented without setting, icons, or references.

The viewer does not know if the painted hand gesture is meant to be religious or if the woman in the portrait is wealthy. Through the subjects pure presentation, the artworks become approachable and relatable – allowing the viewer to rest their gaze without fear that they are missing something. We are open to accept the central image for what it is and to infer what we may. To find out more please read Matthew Tom’s enlightening interview below.

What is your greatest challenge as an artist?

The greatest challenge is simply surviving as an artist honestly.  I kind of need everything to be perfect. I need a studio, time, and money.  So it’s really a struggle getting all that in place.

How has your recent art exhibition, The Pure Land, affected your practice?

For this exhibition, I tried to simplify my painting practice. Before, I would be focused on combining smaller images to create a complex piece. For these paintings, I did the opposite. I would crop and edit detailed smaller works and then magnify them to change their presence and meaning. I am interested in the idea of a painting as an object of worship. So I thought by simplifying them it might create a zen-like experience.

Installation View of Pure Land. Photograph by Dan Bradica. Image courtesy of Christine Park Gallery.

What is the concept behind the title of your exhibition, The Pure Land?

I have long been interested in Buddhism – there is a branch called Pure Land Buddhism. By praying to Buddha Amitabha, he will take you to his world, and together with him, you can spend eternity trying to become enlightened.

I think this idea is really interesting – in that there is a place where you can be at peace working towards your goals forever. I wanted to name my exhibition, The Pure Land, as this exhibition represents my heaven. I included all my interests and tried to make a peaceful place through these pieces.

Stigmata (After Hans Memling) 2018
Stigmata (After Hans Memling), 2018.  Photograph by Dan Bradica. Image courtesy of Christine Park Gallery.

Which artists, writers, or events inspire your latest body of work?

Besides making art, my greatest passion is looking at art. I try to go to every type of art exhibition, but my primary interest is classical artworks. I spend hours every day searching through museum collections to find the perfect images. I like to collect these images, and over time, certain ones will still be fresh in my mind. I believe that paintings can have some supernatural power. I think that is why certain images are repeated over and over throughout history. It transcends geography and religion. A pair of praying hands can fit equally in a Japanese woodcut as a German medieval painting.

Installation View of Pure Land. Photograph by Dan Bradica. Image courtesy of Christine Park Gallery.

How do you develop your ideas into finished artworks (artistic process)?

I believe that painting is very much mystical or even magic. Even though I have a plan coming into each work, as soon as the brush hits the canvas, it gains a life of its own, and I try to contain it. I am always intrigued by how the final painting is always somehow outside of my control.

Young Woman (After 1930s Chinese Insect Repellent Poster) 2018
Young Woman (After 1930s Chinese Insect Repellent Poster), 2018. Photograph by Dan Bradica. Image courtesy of Christine Park Gallery.

What are some upcoming projects you are excited about?

I will be showing my paintings at the Dallas Art Fair in April so I am excited about having the opportunity to show in Texas. I am curious about the response to some of my pieces there.

Scholar’s Garden detail, 2019. Image courtesy of Mathew Tom.

More about Mathew Tom:

Mathew Tom received his MFA from Goldsmith in 2011. Three years later, he was the Starr Fellowship Artist-in-Residence at the Royal Academy School, London. Tom currently teaches at the School of the Visual Arts (SVA) in New York and is represented by Christine Park Gallery.

See the links below for more information:

Mathew Tom

Christine Park Art Gallery

Dallas Art Fair

Gold Smiths MFA in Fine Art

Pure Land Buddhism 


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