Scotland remains an enduring subject, and Matthew has been travelling North two or three times annually for the past 15 or 16 years. In doing so he has followed in the footsteps of some of the artists he deeply admires; William Turner, for example, painted at Loch Coruisk on the misty isle of Skye, and this is where Matthew has repeatedly studied the rocky mountain ridge known as Black Cuillin. With many of its peaks more than 3,000ft tall, it is notoriously the hardest range to climb in the whole United Kingdom.
Matthew pursues his pictorial quests with the passion of a storm-chaser, seeking out things that ignite his interest; he senses when the time is just right, frequently returning emptyhanded from an expedition to retrace his steps repeatedly until the hunt is fulfilled. He will often spend hours or even days in one location, ingesting its fundamental form, witnessing the ebb and flow of light, wind and weather that, like waves lapping the shore, will never repeat exactly the same pattern. In this show he shares a sequence from his hikes at Rannoch Moor in the Highlands, following the exact same scene through the transformations of altering light.
Back in his studio in Edinburgh – the city he has called home for nearly two decades, since graduating from Falmouth College of Art – his process continues. Armed with rainbow ranks of chalky pastels, Matthew refers to the sketches, photographs and notes he makes in situ and so begins his interpretation.
While studying painting in Cornwall – the land featured in three earlier shows at Truro’s Lemon Street Gallery – he began to address colour relationships using pastels, gradually acknowledging that he found them more comfortable, expressive and immediate than other materials. He enjoys a very physical relationship with his medium, his fingers crushing, daubing, dotting and dragging a lush colour palette of dusty pigments across paper, translating them into intense layers. A brush would be a superfluous tool, an unnecessary complication separating artist from paper, not to mention the additional decisions of size and shape required.
While each composition is carefully planned, it is also allowed to develop in its own way. Matthew faces the paradoxical need to both familiarise himself and divorce himself from his subjects. Working intuitively, he is willing to add or subtract elements that appear superfluous as each image takes shape; it’s a case of constantly pacing backwards and forwards, taking things away, then re-emphasising them, always remaining true to his own interpretation rather than a dictated or expected one.
“Often I will put the drawings aside for a while, sometimes for weeks on end,” he explains. “But when I revisit them I am able to see them with fresh eyes and the process begins again.” The tasks he charges himself with can be complex and demanding, but Matthew’s fundamental purpose is very simple.