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 Tomezskoâ€™s series â€œHappier and Happierâ€Â Â displayed in the Crane Artsâ€™ Archive Space. Â 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.
After recently moving from Mantua to Fishtown, Mat took a look around his new neighborhood and noticed tons of advertisements for SugarHouse. Â He recalled being struck by â€œhow disparate the casino was to the way the people were living right across the street, and how itâ€™s in a way this perfect lure…this shimmering oasis…almost the promise of an escape.â€ Â Despite the neighborhoodâ€™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. Â â€œThere are a lot of people who really believe in it, and they have a good time at a casino. Â They believe in the promise of it or theyâ€™re employed by it, so [to a lot of people] itâ€™s a good thing. Â I didnâ€™t want to take that away.â€
Throughout the years, Mat has developed a recognizable style of portraiture, often painting soft, dreamy faces against bold and graphic backgrounds. Â So when I first saw â€œHappier and Happierâ€, I was surprised to see his signature portraits juxtaposed with paintings of words and minimalist abstractions.
â€œI 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. Â I would be forcing [the subject] to be what Iâ€™m comfortable with instead of exploring and expanding.â€ Â Mat found that all of the ads contain text with words like â€œhappyâ€, â€œhappierâ€, â€œfreeâ€, or â€œwinnerâ€ in a bold red font to make them stand out. Â He chose to paint the word â€œfreeâ€ in the same font and color as SugarHouse presented it in the advertisement but isolated the word from the surrounding text â€œso you stop seeing it in the context of the ad and maybe start thinking about what thatÂ word means or what it could mean to someone else.â€
Mat described the monotone â€œGoldâ€ as the key piece in the series. Â â€œThe concept in making up the painting is the way the casino presents itself. Â Â 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. Â Itâ€™s not worth more than three cents.’ Â 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. Â And so that painting, whether you believe itâ€™s a precious thing or not, has sort of the same idea as the casino. Â 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? Â So itâ€™s like believing in that promise or not.â€
Another of Matâ€™s signatures is his use of found materials in his work. Â The two paintings that he described as the â€œcounterpointâ€ to the series focus more on the spirit of the neighborhood itself using materials found nearby. Â â€œThose were entirely made up of found objects and subject matter. Â Thereâ€™s the one that says â€œthank youâ€ over and over which was a piece of plywood I found with paint already splattered on it and a [found] frame. Â The â€œthank youâ€ itself is the message thatâ€™s printed on a plastic bag that you get at a deli when you buy eggs or whatever. Â 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.â€
“Here We Are On Lonely Ass American Streetâ€ is a small, square portrait that hangs beside the â€œThank Youâ€ painting was â€œa random collection of stuff, like the frame was flooring that I found on the street. Â I cut up to make it look like a frame, and itâ€™s backed by a piece of plastic that I found. Â 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. Â As we were turning from Lehigh Avenue onto American Street way up north she just said, â€˜Here we are on lonely-ass American Street.â€™ Â I thought it was really sort of funny and also kind of sad because the areaâ€™s really run-down. Â Itâ€™s like this industrial wasteland. Â Thatâ€™s the reality of everyday, not SugarHouse. Â So I went home and I painted her from memory. Thatâ€™s the first time I did that actually. Â Thereâ€™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. Â Iâ€™m trying to branch out in a lot of ways, so it was a pretty exciting series for me. I definitely learned a lot.â€
“Happier and Happier” showing at Crane Arts’ Archive Space through March 4, 2012. Â 1400 North American Street. Â 215.232.3203