Mat Tomezsko’s Happier and Happier at Crane Arts

You have all month to see the exhibitions opening this weekend, but you only have one last weekend to see Mat Tomezsko’s series “Happier and Happier”  displayed in the Crane Arts’ Archive Space.  The paintings explores the perceptions and realities of SugarHouse Casino, particularly the way the casino projects itself to the neighborhood and the complex responses of the people who live there.

Sugar express painting mat tomezsko "happier and happier" crane arts

After recently moving from Mantua to Fishtown, Mat took a look around his new neighborhood and noticed tons of advertisements for SugarHouse.  He recalled being struck by “how disparate the casino was to the way the people were living right across the street, and how it’s in a way this perfect lure…this shimmering oasis…almost the promise of an escape.”  Despite the neighborhood’s intensely divided opinions surrounding the casino from the initial planning phases to its grand opening in the fall of 2010, Mat sought to remain neutral in his work.  “There are a lot of people who really believe in it, and they have a good time at a casino.  They believe in the promise of it or they’re employed by it, so [to a lot of people] it’s a good thing.  I didn’t want to take that away.”

mat tomezsko happier and happier paintings at crane arts philadelphia
Throughout the years, Mat has developed a recognizable style of portraiture, often painting soft, dreamy faces against bold and graphic backgrounds.  So when I first saw “Happier and Happier”, I was surprised to see his signature portraits juxtaposed with paintings of words and minimalist abstractions.

“I started in my normal way, you know, my comfortable approach, and the more and more I was reading the ads, I was focusing so much on language that eventually it became apparent to me that I would have to branch out and explore another area or else it would be inappropriate.  I would be forcing [the subject] to be what I’m comfortable with instead of exploring and expanding.”  Mat found that all of the ads contain text with words like “happy”, “happier”, “free”, or “winner” in a bold red font to make them stand out.  He chose to paint the word “free” in the same font and color as SugarHouse presented it in the advertisement but isolated the word from the surrounding text “so you stop seeing it in the context of the ad and maybe start thinking about what that word means or what it could mean to someone else.”

mat tomezsko happier and happier paintings at crane arts philadelphia

mat tomezsko happier and happier paintings at crane arts philadelphiaMat described the monotone “Gold” as the key piece in the series.  “The concept in making up the painting is the way the casino presents itself.   So I had plywood and duct tape and spraypaint, and you can look at the painting and see it as those things and just be like, ‘Well technically this is a piece of crap.  It’s not worth more than three cents.’  Or you can look at it and appreciate it and be reminded of gold bars or minimalist paintings, and all of a sudden that makes it better.  And so that painting, whether you believe it’s a precious thing or not, has sort of the same idea as the casino.  Is it just this place where you go to lose money? Or is it this place where all these things line up to ignite your interest and you respond to it?  So it’s like believing in that promise or not.”

mat tomezsko happier and happier paintings at crane arts philadelphiaAnother of Mat’s signatures is his use of found materials in his work.  The two paintings that he described as the “counterpoint” to the series focus more on the spirit of the neighborhood itself using materials found nearby.  “Those were entirely made up of found objects and subject matter.  There’s the one that says “thank you” over and over which was a piece of plywood I found with paint already splattered on it and a [found] frame.  The “thank you” itself is the message that’s printed on a plastic bag that you get at a deli when you buy eggs or whatever.  So I just combined all those things, and for me it represents more of the working class side of the neighborhood and more of the character of the people themselves and their everyday experience of life.”

mat tomezsko happier and happier paintings at crane arts philadelphia

american street north philadelphia

     American Street (Google street view)

“Here We Are On Lonely Ass American Street” is a small, square portrait that hangs beside the “Thank You” painting was “a random collection of stuff, like the frame was flooring that I found on the street.  I cut up to make it look like a frame, and it’s backed by a piece of plastic that I found.  The painting is of this woman that I sat next to on a bus, and she was making wisecracks the whole time, and I thought she was hilarious.  As we were turning from Lehigh Avenue onto American Street way up north she just said, ‘Here we are on lonely-ass American Street.’  I thought it was really sort of funny and also kind of sad because the area’s really run-down.  It’s like this industrial wasteland.  That’s the reality of everyday, not SugarHouse.  So I went home and I painted her from memory. That’s the first time I did that actually.  There’s a lot about this [series where] I started doing new things, cause you know I get tired of doing the same thing and getting a little too comfortable with it.  I’m trying to branch out in a lot of ways, so it was a pretty exciting series for me. I definitely learned a lot.”


mat tomezsko happier and happier paintings at crane arts philadelphia


“Happier and Happier” showing at Crane Arts’ Archive Space through March 4, 2012.  1400 North American Street.  215.232.3203


Written and photographed by Carina Giamerese: Contributing Writer, Side Arts.

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