Matthew Roberts: A lot of the sources for my work have come from exploration of the land. That is a big thing. I did a project where I was hiking mountains in Oregon and taking sculptures with me. I cast these aluminum pieces of faces with crowns or halos. The faces were of people that were very close. The aluminum was embedded in the rock and I carried the pieces to the tops of different mountains and left them. The whole piece was kind of like a pilgrimage; each hike was like a promise through the endurance, through the struggle. Also there was this idea that I was a foreigner in the landscape and I was taking these non-natural objects, these foreigners, into the wilderness and abandoning them. There was something about that that was really important to the way I was thinking about the work and my relationship to the studio. I was beginning to doubt a lot of things in terms of what artwork could do and what my relationship to the work and my relationship to other people through the work should be. Those pieces helped me clarify where I put myself in relation to the work. Through those hikes I got really interested in landscape, not just the formal beauty, but how my movement through landscape is important to the way that I approach making work.
The image of the ditches specifically, came from an abandoned lot near my mom and dad’s house in Corvallis. These guys would go back into this area with their trucks and tear it up. It was interesting to watch the progression. Though I never saw them, the guys in the trucks, just the aftermath of everything struck me. Sometimes you could see where someone got stuck and had to be pulled out. The ruts would fill with rainwater and mosquito larvae in the summer and this weird skin of oil and other engine stuff. I was really attracted to the idea that these violent actions had something that was carried in them. Something that was collected as a result. There was a really strong cause and effect in that visual.
Duplex: These ditches are cast from those ruts?
MR: Kind of. I think they’ve moved on to these wells or reflecting pools. They are more like individuals now, like people on the ground, caved in. These are sort of what is collected, in a loose way.
D: While you are talking about your materials and your projects, sounds very akin to Greek mythology. The wax and Icarus, the stone and Sisyphus, and the reflections and Narcissus. Do you think about that?
MR: I like those stories, but I don’t think about them too directly with the work. Although that is there. Sisyphus is kind of an amazing parallel to life. The continual struggle, but it’s not just struggle it’s this endless task. Seemingly impossible task that has to be repeated. If he stops doing it he will die apparently, or nothing. Who knows what will happen. Carrying the stones up the mountains I did a lot of writing about Sisyphus.
D: Did you feel the task of carrying these plaster casts back to your studio was the same as carrying those stones? Was that an important part of the process?
MR: I made them here. I wanted to get away from a direct correlation. The tire tracks were the seed for the images in my head but I didn’t want to talk about those guys so much as this process that can show a strange gathering of materials. I laid the forms up in mud and used a brush-able rubber mold to cast them.
D: That’s almost a step further, you are pulling nature in and creating something out of it, instead of stumbling upon it as it lay.
MR: It wasn’t so much as a direct copy paste. I tried to take casts of those kind of things in undergrad and it didn’t work very well. I wasn’t that patient. I have been becoming more interested in things you could stumble across, but not necessarily ordinary things. Something you could see everyday but that is also pushed to that point where there is a different vibration about it. A lot of my other work has been something that you could almost find.
I am really excited about these pieces. I don’t think they are quite to that place where I can say they are finished. The water still holds a lot of questions for me. I am still curious about where it can go or how it can change.
D: How do you see the ditches changing? In your process do you make more or change the ones you have?
MR: I won’t make more, I like the two. Roni Horn says something interesting about the quality of two things. There was a series of photographs that she made were two photos a couple seconds apart were taken of the same subject. With one, you just seen an image, but with two you see the difference in the images, like an object viewed with two eyes. There is some really lovely play between how the ditches are similar but dissimilar. Just the slight color and how the water looks darker in one even though it is not. I don’t think the wax changes, but the water might change. But I am not sure. I‘ve been thinking about Willamette River water to see if that would be strangely murky. I don’t want them to get too literal. I don’t want them to be just a mud hole. If anything changing it is going to be the liquid.
D: Does the water have a significant source?
MR: This is just tap water, but I have been thinking about water a lot. Originally the ditches were going to be a dusty color and the water was going to be this super fowl engine filled stuff. But the quality changed a lot when I cast it in the wax. So I don’t know exactly what the water needs to be.
D: It is incredibly bizarre to see them so still. I thought it was resin at first, when it is contained like this the wax seems to absorb a lot of the floor motion.
MR: yeah, they are super flat. I was thinking about that, the floor of the gallery is wood, so I am curious about that.
D: Do you have to replace the water? Will it evaporate?
MR: Down here it hasn’t evaporated because it is cool. But I am curious how much it will evaporate in the gallery. There might be other things in the water that changes how it evaporates.
D: As you are testing the level of the water, have you seen what it looks like at different levels?
MR: Yes, this floor has definitely been covered in water. It’s a lot cleaner than it was, which is great. But I have played around with that water level point, right before it overflows.
D: That is always a beautiful tension. It will be interesting to see how they change over their time in the gallery.
D: Originally we had talked about the stump being the center of your show. How did you move from the stump to here?
MR: The stump lost something. I got more interested in the ditches and the stump became diluted or the vision of it just fizzled. It was a good rope bridge across the canyon; it got me from one place to another.
D: I like that metaphor, especially in terms of your work.
MR: The stump was something I was working on for too long. It became more labor than love. I lost interest in where it was going. I had been doing drawings of the ditches because I was really interested in these cavities of mud that collected this water. What is collected reflects the things that are holding it. As I was making a bunch of drawings in my sketchbook and I became really interested in the forms and I started laying out these circles in mud.
MR: These are drawings of water, specifically the Willamette River. They feel really turbulent next to the ditches that are soft and still.
D: Once you say it is water, you can obviously feel that, but when I looked at them before it just felt like the texture of the wax and mud. It is like a void but a mass at the same time. A swarm, but the absence of light.
MR: I went down to Willamette Park and sat on the dock and was drawing the water. When you look at the water, the surface of the water at a single point, all the reflections seem to be pointing at you. Everything is radiating out from you. Even the water seems to bend around you. When you draw it, it has a really strange resonance just to your particular place.
D: Are the colors indicative of a specific ditch?
MR: The colors that you see are the natural colors based off the composition of the wax. The darker one is a lot older and it has some other wax mixed in it. The lighter one is just straight Victory brown wax. The feel of them is a lot different. I was going to paint them but I like the quality of the wax a lot. I liked how it felt.
D: Within the water too, the colors start to come alive. The shiny reflection it has such a topographical, aerial feeling.
MR: yeah it flattens it out in a strange way. I thought that they would look a lot deeper with the water in them, but they actually look shallower.